I can almost hear the sneers now:
“Call yourself a crime fiction reviewer?”
“Pull your head out of the sand, mate”
“What next? You have heard of Sherlock Holmes, I take it..”
Actually, no.Crime fiction reviewers tend to be a fairly charitable lot, especially as most of us are not in it for the money, but for the love of reading (and a few ARCs, naturally) But I do have to confess a sense of embarrassment at reading a brilliant book and then realising that it is only the latest in a well established series of which I had been blissfully unaware.
Apology done and, I hope, dusted. Armand Gamache is a senior policeman with the Sûreté in Quebec the francophile province in Canada. He is still under suspension following a controversial drugs case which resulted in one of his colleagues being badly shot up, and a potentially fatal consignment of the opioid fentanyl going missing.
Gamache is informed by a notary that he has been named as an executor of a will. He has, however, never met or even heard of the deceased woman. Intrigued, he goes to meet the notary and his fellow executors at a remote farmhouse. Arriving, in the teeth of a violent blizzard, he is bemused to discover that a friend from his home village of Three Pines, has received the same summons.
The mystery deepens when Gamache learns that the dead woman was a domestic cleaner, and she has bequeathed an estate apparently worth millions of dollars. She used to joke that she was of noble blood, but was her self-mockery founded in fact?
A murder at ‘Baroness’ Baumartner’s ramshackle farmhouse transforms the affair from peculiar to deadly, and Gamache is sucked into an investigation which can only end badly. In addition, he has a two huge problems, massive elephants in the confined space of his professional room. Firstly, Amelia Choqet, an unconventional young police woman who has been mentored by Gamache, has been kicked out for drug offences, and has now apparently reverted to her former lifestyle of street whore and drug abuser. Secondly he is tormented by the fear that if the missing batch of opioids gets onto the streets, there will carnage.
The murder of Anthony Baumgartner takes Gamache and his team into the murky world of investment finance and an environment where millions of dollars are flicked this way and that by financial ‘experts’.
Allegedly, native Canadians have fifty words for snow, and LouisePenny certainly makes us shiver, stamp our frozen feet, and clap our gloved hands together. The weather becomes a baleful and powerful character in The Kingdom Of The Blind, and every step Gamache and his team take is in defiance of snowdrifts, abandoned vehicles and cold of such intensity that exposed skin is first brutalised and then destroyed.
In addition to describing the search for a murderer, Louise Penny cleverly sets off two other plot-lines for us to chase, and she takes great delight in resolving both, but neither in the way we have been led to expect. Kingdom Of The Blind is little short of perfect; a consummate crime novel with razor-sharp characterisation, a real sense of compassion, convincing dialogue and a plot that seizes the reader’s hand and will not let go. Published by Sphere, the novel (the 14th in the series) is out on 27th November.