My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Martha Stewart wannabe CC de Poitiers has invaded the tranquility of the picture postcard village of Three Pines, buying up the somewhat creepy mansion in which Inspector Gamache’s last bloody case was brought to a close. Moving in with her henpecked husband and gifted but unloved daughter, CC manages to cast a pall even over the idyllic Christmas Eve service. She’s also shamelessly purloined the ideas of the villagers to publish in her new book as her own. So when CC winds up dead by electrocution during the traditional holiday curling tournament, no one is surprised or sorry. But Gamache must investigate anyway, and has got his work cut out for him. The situation is complicated by the reassignment of agent Yvette Nichol to his squad, who did her utmost to undermine that last investigation. Then there’s the murder of a homeless woman in Montreal, a seemingly unrelated crime that turns out to have serious connections to CC’s death.
The charm of this series lies less in its police procedural aspects than in watching Gamache, a serious student of human nature, piece together tiny bits of evidence and intuitions to formulate a coherent theory to pursue. While occasionally threatening to spill over into the cozy genre, this is avoided by the inclusion of unusual settings and experiences, in this case the curling match and certain parallels to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The behavior of seemingly honest and harmless villagers can also be deceiving. There is no such person in Three Pines or in Gamache’s wider sphere of influence, excepting perhaps, his wife Reine Marie. Like Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon’s series, Armand Gamache is a man of intelligence and humanity, someone you’d like to get to know.