Review: Dead Cold by Louise Penny

DeadCold‘Dead… what?’ you may well ask, because outside the UK this book was published as ‘A Fatal Grace’.  Somehow, this title was not deemed suitable for the British, but the original title was nowhere to be seen, so I spent quite a bit of time on Goodreads and other sites to find out which book I had just finished reading.  Don’t you love it when that happens?

This is my incursion into Canada for the Global Reading Challenge, that wonderful meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.  And a very frosty, atmospheric journey it was too, set around Christmas in the sleepy village of Three Pines in Quebec.  This is the second book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series and I picked it at random, simply because it was the only one available at my local library. It is perhaps not the strongest in the series, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters so much that I have already ordered a couple more from abroad.

Every now and then you come across a crime series that has a fully developed world of its own, its own language and in-jokes, the interplay of characters, which you only gradually penetrate, book by book.  It is a pleasure to sink into such a complete and satisfying landscape, and I feel about this series much the same as I felt about Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’ series set in Ancient Rome. It’s like meeting an old friend.

Yet, at the same time, this is cosy fiction with an unsettling undercurrent, not just an escapist read. Gamache is a complex, thoughtful, sensitive detective, who never once falls into cliché.  The village seems idyllic, but is of course filled with quirky characters, many of them artists and writers who have dropped out of the big city rat-race.  I especially enjoyed big-hearted and insecure Clara, straight-talking poet Ruth and gay couple Olivier and Gabri.  Yet one member of this peaceful community is responsible for the death of CC de Poitiers, a pretentious, unlikeable woman with a murky past, a ruthless streak and an obsession to become the next big lifestyle guru.  Death by electrocution, no less, while watching a curling game.  And what is the connection with the death of a homeless person back in Montreal?

The plot is not the main thing here, however. It’s all about the wintry atmosphere, the humorous descriptions of curling and the bulky attire inevitably linked to the Canadian climate. I also enjoyed the sly observations about the ‘others’, in this case the Anglos with their contained emotions, never quite saying what they mean. (The author herself is just such an Anglo, it should be noted, but she steps seamlessly into the shoes of the French-speaking community in Quebec.)