If February was a poor month with only four books read, March is a bonanza with nine books read. Part of the reason for that is I had two or three books started at the end of last month, which I finished this month. The other thing is that I had a couple of easy reads this month. Given those two factors I decided I would break my round ups into March fiction and March non-fiction.
March marked the end of the Strong Badger Coffeehouse. It existed for just under three years. While Fools & Horses is my main coffee spot, Strong Badger, located just a few short blocks from where I live, was a regular drop in spot for me. It was at Strong Badger that I started singing at Open Mics, and it was always a great place to run into your neighbours.
Strong Badger was run by Brock Peters. A graduate of Canadian Mennonite University, Brock loves words almost as much as he loves coffee, and the coffeehouse was filled with books, typewriters, and regular literary events.
Brock is also a writer, and The Strong Badger is hus first novel. The book is self-published but is currently being carried by McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg’s great, local bookstore.
A fantasy novel, the story turns around the adventures of Tass, a young badger whose roommate suddenly disappears. As a young badger, Tass is at a loss as to what to do. So far, he has wandered aimlessly through life, but the disappearance of his friend moves him to action. However, he doesn’t know where to start or who to trust.
As he goes searching he runs, into a rat, a bear, a group of musicians, and and the owner of a strange and wonderful coffee shop. He also meets the Strong Badger, who reminds him of what it means to be a badger. As he continues to search he uncovers a plot that puts his city at risk, and knows that he must stop it from happening.
The Strong Badger is an entertaining read. Made more so, if you live in the West End of Winnipeg, as you pick out some of the thinly disguised landmarks, and occasionally, thinly disguised people. The book is a real page turner, and a really good initial offering from Peters. I’m looking forward to the follow up, which he is already working on.
The next three books are all part of the Inspector Gamache series. This brings me up to the most recent novel which I still need to pick up and read.
The Nature of the Beast begins with Gamache still on leave, contemplating his next career move. While he is resting in Three Pines a young boy comes into the Bistro story with a fantastic tale of a giant gun. The boy has a reputation for crying wolf, and nobody believes him until he turns up dead.
As Gamache assists agents Lacoste and Beauvoir in investigating the truth they discover that the boy was telling the truth, there is indeed a very big gun hidden deep in the woods. This discovery brings into the story a couple of shifty CSIS agents, and old professor who may not be what he seems. As the same time the village is putting on a play written by a serial killer with a connection to Gamache’s past. Part way through, the director of the play is killed.
The big gun turns out to be a mystery that no one in the town talks about, and only a few such as Ruth Zardo, Three Pines malignant poet know the story. In many ways the big, black gun, turns out to be a big, red herring, and the murderer turns out to be closer to home than thought.
Like many of the Gamache stories, the gun subplot is based on actual events. In this case a gun developed by Gerald Bull, a shady character in the world of international arms, and a supplier to Saddam Hussein. Also, like many of the Gamache stories, the big gun story is more interesting than the murder mystery. Also, future events in the series are often telegraphed, and I think we haven’t seen the last of the serial killer character.
Potential spoiler alert
A Great Reckoning opens with Inspector Gamache back on the job. He’s taking on a new task, head of the Surete Training Academy. While Gamache has cleaned up much of the corruption in the Surete, there is still a remnant existing in the leadership of the Academy.
The second-in-command is at the root of the corruption, but is allowed to stay, as well Gamache brings in his own former, now disgraced, friend, Michel Brebeuf. Before he begins, he is given the gift of an odd map of Three Pines.
When the second in command is found murdered, with a copy of the map in his room, suspicion falls on Gamache, and also on a young cadet Amelia Choquet, an angry, defiant, tattooed young cadet who seems to go out of her way to be unlikable. There seems to be some sort of odd relationship going on between Gamache and Amelia, which no one can figure out.
Not surprisingly the mystery leads everyone back to Three Pines. In the end the solution to the mystery of the map is discovered in the old Anglican church of St. Thomas, in three pines. A stained glass window that is featured in several of the Gamache novels gives up it’s sad, tragic secrets.
This novel again winds up several plot points and character developments. Without giving to much away, one thing I didn’t like about this novel is that it continued in the series habit of Gamache as the super-human. Also, he gets for more closure than any one human I’ve ever met.
March Fiction – Glass Houses
I have to admit, as the end of my last review may have hinted, I’m starting to get a little tired of Inspector Gamache. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Louise Penny always includes a secondary story line in these books which make them very readable even without the murder mystery.
One thing Penny is really good at, and I hope she does more of, is writing great mythic stories. The Brutal Telling is the best example of this in the series, but it shows up in almost every book. Glass Houses comes a close second.
The novel begins with Gamache in the witness stand in a Montreal courthouse. There is great tension as Gamache is being questioned by the prosecution. The scene then switches to Three Pines where a mysterious black robed figure appears on the green. The figure is cloaked and masked, and each day stands, and stares in the direction of the bistro. Eventually the robed figure is found murdered and it’s this murder that is the source of the courtroom drama.
The action skips back between the court room, Three Pines, and Surete headquarters, Gamache and his closest associates are dealing with problems created by the arrival of ever-increasing amounts of ever-increasingly dangerous drugs into the country.
At the heart of the book is the question of whether or not law and justice are always the same thing, and where would one draw the line to see that justice is done.
What really fascinated me in the story was the character of the black-robed figure, the cobrador.
Penny takes a real character, the Corbrador Del Frac, a Spanish debt collector, and then creates an older, medieval Corbrador, one that collects moral debts. The tradition she creates has quite a plausible ring to it, and she uses the character to add a great deal of suspense to the story.
Personally, I’d like to see her wrap up the Gamache series and turn to more of this style of story writing. Personally, I’d opt for the George Gently ending for Gamache(although I don’t think most would), Warning: Spoiler if you haven’t seen the end of the series.
I’ll be posting my non-fiction reads tomorrow.