Inspector Armand Gamache Does It Again: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

I just came back from another visit via audiobook to Three Pines, the idyllic village hidden away in the woods of Quebec, populated by artists, intellectuals, and quirky individuals of all stripes who are horrified each time they discover that someone among them is a murderer. With the seventh book in this mystery series by talented author Louise Penny on the way in August, the charming villagers of Three Pines (and the outsiders who find their way to the B&B there) have to confront this shocking truth fairly often.
The first book about Three Pines and the courtly, crime-solving Chief Inspector Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, Still Life, was instantly compared to the classic English mysteries of Agatha Christie and there’ve been no shortage of favorable reviews and awards for the series ever since. Reviewers have recommended Louise Penny to fans of P.D. James, Donna Leon, and Dorothy Sayers, among others.
I have been suggesting the Armand Gamache books for a few years to readers looking for a traditional-style mystery series that’s not too violent but not a cozy; humorous but not cutesy; and has characters with some depth whom the reader learns more about over the course of the series.
I don’t read many mysteries, but today, listening to the end of The Cruelest Month (superbly narrated as all of the books in the series are by Ralph Cosham), it struck me that the books appeal to me in the same way Jane Langton’s Homer and Mary Kelly mysteries do. The likeable main characters are witty, kindhearted, and have a few realistic failings, while the dislikable minor characters are also so three-dimensional (for a mystery, anyway) that the reader can empathize with them, as well. Since there unfortunately hasn’t been a new mystery from Jane Langton since 2005’s Steeplechase, I’m glad that I have the rest of the Inspector Armand Gamache series to listen to.
BTW, this series should also appeal to readers who like descriptions of food in their books. The meals served up at the Three Pines bistro and bed and breakfast in Three Pines always sound delicious!

The series so far:
Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling

Listen to a sample of the Blackstone audiobook edition of The Cruelest Month here.

8 in the Box by Raffi Yessayan

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Author Raffi Yessayan’s name isn’t as easy to remember as “Robert B. Parker”, but he was named in a Boston Globe article as one of the up-and-coming authors likely to win a place in the hearts of readers who miss Parker’s mystery series starring Spenser, Boston’s favorite private investigator. (Robert B. Parker died on January 18, 2010.)
8 in the Box introduces homicide detective Angel Alves, a family man. He is newly promoted and confronting the case of the Blood Bath Killer, a serial murderer who leaves his female victims’ bathtubs full of their own blood. If you enjoy reading John Sandford’s Prey series or Harlan Coben’s thrillers, this fast-paced story should be a good match for you.
A Massachusetts author, Raffi Yessayan spent 11 years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, and has set 8 in the Box — his first mystery novel — in a fictional South Bay district courthouse where the DAs work closely with police in cracking down on crime on the streets of Boston. (For the sake of the story, Mr. Yessayan has some of the lawyers ignore proper legal procedures. Let’s hope those parts aren’t drawn from his own experience.)
The second book in the series, 2 in the Hat, is already out, and the author will have a chance to develop the character of Angel. Be careful! Don’t read them out of order.
Keep up with local bestsellers and author visits on The Boston Globe‘s book blog, Off the Shelf.

The City & The City by China Mieville

Imagine a drab, Eastern-bloc type of city side by side with a brighter, more prosperous city, with the border between them so undemarcated that people on one side of a street can be in Beszel and, on the other, in Ul Qoma, but where — in both places — it is a crime, a Breach, of unimaginable proportions to consciously notice people, shops, and restaurants in the street with you that belong to the other city. If you accidentally see them, you must immediately “unsee”. Travel from one city to the other is allowed only through the official border crossing checkpoint.

In this blend of crime fiction and speculative fiction by English author China Mieville, Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad in Beszel investigates the murder of a woman whose body was dumped in a rundown skate park along the border with Ul Qoma. While he follows leads to shadowy political organizations and academic archeologists rumored to have discovered proof of a legendary, original third city, Borlu is watched closely by the mysterious agents of Breach to see that none of the arcane laws and established protocols of the two cities are broken.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of alternative history, enjoy philosophical speculation about human behavior and government, or if you liked The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, you should try this novel, which is a fascinating exploration into national and cultural differences and what, in our common humanity, transcends them.

China Mieville is known more for writing fantasy and s/f, but don’t let that scare you off from trying this book, which is very realistic in style once you accept the basic premise. Check out the author’s comments on writing crime fiction at author John Scalzi’s Web site here.

Check for availability of The City & The City in the Old Colony Library Network here.

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