Review of “The Brutal Telling” by Louise Penny

In The Brutal Telling, Chief Inspector Armande Gamache is the largely silent, perceptive detective that heads a division of the famed homicide department of the Surete du Quebec. Like Adam Dalgliesh, who performs a similar function for P.D. James, Gamache turns up in this author’s mysteries like an old penny. And as in the previous Gamache books, the murder has occurred in the seemingly blissful village of Three Pines, near Montreal.


In this instance, an apparently unknown and quite dead hermit shows up on the floor of the bistro owned by two gay partners, Olivier and Gabri, who also run the B & B next door. Gamache and his colleagues Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste return to Three Pines and the B & B to solve the crime. They also allow a local young man, Agent Paul Morin, to apprentice with them, learning the lessons they all now know so well:

“…to catch a killer they didn’t move forward. They moved back. Into the past. That was where the crime began, where the killer began. Some event, perhaps long forgotten by everyone else, had lodged inside the murderer. And he’d begun to fester.

What kills can’t be seen, the Chief had warned Beauvoir. That’s what makes it so dangerous. It’s not a gun or a knife or a fist. It’s not anything you can see coming. It’s an emotion. Rancid, spoiled. And waiting for a chance to strike.”

And so, in the warm, comfortable, and caloric bosom of the bistro and the B & B, the inspectors begin their investigation. Gamache, with his kind, thoughtful and intelligent eyes, was the most feared by those with the most to fear; for they knew those eyes could see what most men could not.

Before long, the place the murder actually took place is discovered, a log hut deep in the woods full of priceless antiques. The weapon and motive eventually come out as well. But mysteries remain, and the detectives wonder if they are being purposefully led away from the murderer’s trail. This challenge, in fact, was the part of the investigation Gamache liked the most: “…the possibility of turning left when he should have gone right. Of dismissing a lead, of giving up on a promising trail. Or not seeing one in his rush to a conclusion.”

Finally, Gamache is able to discover the rest, including what caused the great fear that drove all the parties to the murder – something the murderer wanted more than anything else, and something denied to him as long as the victim was alive.

Evaluation: This book belongs to the “drawing room” or “cozy mystery” genre. Thus you are generally assured of a certain charm no matter how the mystery part comes out. I liked the characters, in spite of the fact that they seemed a bit inconsistent at times; at least they were on the complex side. The description of life in a small Canadian village is lovely, although some of the behavior of the locals strains credulity. I was not so impressed with the writing as far as the murder was concerned. I feel the author used the narrative equivalent of exclamation marks a little too often, making mountains out of a molehills. In the final analysis, I thought it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. It would definitely appeal to fans of the series, however.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Minotaur Books, 2009

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11 Responses to Review of “The Brutal Telling” by Louise Penny

  1. bermudaonion says:

    This is in my TBR pile – sorry to see it doesn’t live up to it’s potential.

  2. I like cozy mysteries. Set in Canada appeals to me too.

  3. Cathy says:

    I’ve never heard of this one – too bad it wasn’t more enjoyable.

    I have a BINGO award for you at One eyed stuffed bunny and …

  4. Eva says:

    Your mention of Dalgleish had me excited, but it seems like the writing isn’t the best. Would you say this is comparable to PD James or not?

  5. Lisa says:

    Cozy mystery does sound appealing. I just discovered M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series and they would definitely fall into the “cozy” mystery category.

  6. Eva,
    I would say P.D. James has nothing to worry about!

  7. diane says:

    I enjoyed your review on A Brutal Telling. I plan to read this pne closer to its release date.

  8. Toni says:

    I have this one.. shoot.. I need to get my butt busy. Wish it had gotten a four from you though as this isn’t my typical genre… but still I am open. Very nice review as always.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I have an award for you!

  10. susan gray says:

    Penny’s warm and intuitive style has become overdone and overemotional. Her reach has rather exceeded her grasp. In earlier novels she wove exquisite tapestries – of people, of joy and fear, of life in a small town and in a huge world. Now she has, it seems, lost herself in the exhilaration of Being A Great Writer. Much of her prose is overdone and contrived. Her fabulous characters have become caricatures of themselves. Ruth Zardo, for example, was one of my favourite characters in any novel, not just in Penny’s work. But in this book she’s become a freak. Too bad! When I was in drama school one summer our instructor talked to us about the folly of going on stage and thinking, “I’m acting! I’m aaaccctttiiinnnggg!!!” Penny seems to be doing this when she writes at this point (only in her case, she’s thinking, “I’m A Writer!!!”.

  11. Br3n says:

    I LOVED The Brutal Telling, both because I love Gamarche but in this instance, because the story line required that Gamarche travel to Haidi Gwaii, in order to piece together the bits that together solve the puzzle. To have both the native perspective of Haida Gwaii (west coast) and Quebec, as well as Eastern European links, resulted in several layers of richness to the story line.

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