The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

by Louise Penny

Paperback, 2010

Call number





Minotaur Books (2010), Edition: Reprint, 386 pages


A stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store and all clues point to bistro owner Olivier being the killer. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets long buried--but not forgotten.

Media reviews

While constant readers may think they know all there is to know about its eccentric villagers, Penny is a great one for springing surprises.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus

Okay. I've told everyone that I read books twice before I write a review, because it's not fair to someone who spends a year just bringing a book to market, plus who knows how long dreaming it up and committing it to paper and lovingly burnishing its prose, simply to wing off some half-baked sentences about it.

So I read this book twice, and thought about it, and examined my responses to it. I was careful to think through my strong reactions to the book.

I can now state, in all fairness, that I loathe Louise Penny from the depths of my soul. Hate her! Wish to see her tied to a stake and burnt as the ensorcelling, enticing Succubus of Fiction that she is!

*pause to put out spontaneously combusted desk blotter*

The rational reason: The murderer in this book is clearly identified early on; doubts are cast onto tthe murderer's guilt at the end of the book, but it's too little too late, as we are already eviscerated, devastated, squashed flat like a bug, by the revelation that Olivier...that's right, fearless readers, OLIVIER! as in the bistro's owner and Gabri...poor, poor Gabri!...Gabri's one true love is plain ol', flat-out nasty.

Yeup. Heard me right. OLIVIER is the bad guy. So what if maybe, just maybe, he didn't kill the victim? Big deal! He did some very very very vile stuff, and he did it in full possession of his faculties, and he...I mean, I mean, LOUISE PENNY did...made us love him and care for him like Gabri...poor, darling Gabri, such a pain he is, but such a mensch...does!

*pause to put out spontaneously combusted letter holder*

Okay, okay, I will attempt some restraint out of fear for my home furnishings.

Emily Carr, the Canadian artist whose life and career serve as one of the support rods of this perfidious, sneaky attack on the hearts of loyal fans...I mean, this narrative, was a delightful painter of the stunningly beautiful world of Canada's West. Penny doesn't need to make her more famous in Canada, but I venture to guess that most Murrikins have never heard of her. This is a shame, but not a surprise: How many who aren't serious art buffs have heard of Canada's Group of Seven anyway? So go look at Carr's bio and follow some links to her spectacular artwork:

Go Louise Penny. Rah.

And if it's possible, Armand Gamache becomes even more lovable in this instalment of the series. It's unnerving, really, how much I believe that he really exists, Three Pines really exists, the whole Pennyverse is actual not virtual. The Chief Inspector is so gentle and patient and loving in his treatment of Gabri. He grieves with him. He explains the facts as he knows them to Gabri, whose denial he fully and completely understands after the ending of The Cruelest Month. Armand Gamache makes the whole agonizing betrayal-fest that is this hot poker of a book worthwhile.

Oh, and Clara's art show is even more satisfying than it would be otherwise because of the way it all falls into place. That's all I can say. Plus Peter's come-uppance! After A Rule Against Murder, I actively dislike Peter Morrow; his complete and utter vitiation in this book felt *so* good. But, honestly, I don't expect that it'll last...Penny's proven she's a cruel and unusual punishment specialist, you just wait...she has some horrid shock awaiting us about Peter....

Recommended, Goddammit, because it's too integral to the series not to read. But it ticks me off to recommend it. Really, truly, it does.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
Each book in the Three Pines series is better than the last. This edition, the fifth in the series is by far my favorite. The Chief Inspector is in rare form, the prime suspect is one of the series’ regulars, Peter is still trying to undermine Clara, Ruth Zardo continues to crank out lovely poetry while annoying most everyone, her duck Rosa is now clothed with cast-off coats, etc., some newcomers seem to be infringing on Olivier and Gabri’s business, and, oh yes, there’s a murder. And everyone is in agrement that no one knows the victim. Well almost everyone, with the exception of one of the series regulars, who is not actually telling the truth. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Carefully laid out, we accompany the chief and his staff as they methodically follow the clues all the way to British Columbia. In the background, Clara is finalizing plans for her one woman art show, much to Peter’s chagrin. Top notch mystery. If you haven’t started the series yet, you really should. Really. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“Something happened to our murderer, something we might consider insignificant, trivial even, but was devastating to him. An event, a snub, an argument that most people would shrug off. Murderers don’t. They ruminate; they gather and guard resentments. And those resentments grow. Murders are about emotions. Emotions gone bad and gone wild.” (Ch 9)

A dead body is discovered in The Bistro at Three Pines, and the close community, which seems to have a penchant for turning up bodies, is thrown into chaos. Bistro proprietors, Gabri Dubeau and Olivier Brule, are stunned; they have put everything into their business and fear the ramifications of recent events. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, along with his team, is dispatched to Three Pines. They discover the body to be that of a recluse who lived in the woods in a quaint, hidden cabin, not far from the village. The tiny home, it is soon uncovered, is full of priceless antiques worth millions of dollars: exquisite carvings, a fabulous violin, an original music score, first edition books, priceless glassware, china, silver, inlaid wood. But even more odd than the antique collection is the well-travelled corpse: killed presumably at the cottage in the forest, the body was then deposited in the foyer of the new Auberge and Spa (the old Hadley place); from there, it was moved again to its place of discovery at the The Bistro. Bad blood (pun intended) is discovered to exist between Olivier Brule and Marc Gilbert, owner of the exquisite new spa and resort. But that’s not all: a number of the antiques are determined to be Czech in origin, and suspicion is cast on Three Pines’ Czech community, the Parras family in particular; and the priceless wood carvings are found to be carved from red cedar, native only to remote parts of British Columbia. Gamache and his team, before this crime is solved, will decipher a web of intrigue, deceit, and terror.

“In the end the answer to a murder investigation was always devastatingly simple. It was always right there, obvious. Hiding in facts and evidence and lies, and the misperceptions of the investigators.” (Ch 31)
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LibraryThing member BeckyJG
The Brutal Telling is the fifth of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache novels. Murder has once again happened in the tiny, seemingly idyllic Quebec village of Three Pines, and Chief Inspector Gamache, along with Inspectors Beauvoir and Lacoste head out from the city to solve the case. They stay, as always, in Olivier and Gabri's B & B, but, charming as the two men have made it, there's a taint in the air: the body in question was dumped in their bistro next door, implicating them as suspects.

The body is that of someone that no one seems to know. He appears to be a homeless man in his seventies, although his autopsy will show that he is a weathered--but well-kept--fifty-something. Who is he? Who hated him enough to kill him? Who even knew him at all, let alone well enough to kill him? And why does he live in a log cabin deep in the woods filled with priceless antiques and other treasure?

Chief Inspector Gamache is deep and thoughtful, and, as always, engages the puzzle at all levels. His intelligence is keen, his patience seemingly boundless. Gamache listens, he is always polite and respectful, and yet he will be forceful as needed. His power comes from within, and he's supremely confident in it (in one of the many amusing little throw away incidents Penny folds into her much grander, beautiful narrative, as they are approaching a potentially volatile interview Inspector Beauvoir asks Gamache if he has a gun, and shakes his head in exasperation when Gamache replies that he doesn't like guns because they're dangerous).

Three Pines is a village composed largely of long term residents who have come from elsewhere. Some were running, some were seeking, but all have found at least some degree of peace in their rather murder-prone little haven. There is a great poet, artists of various sorts, former financiers and ad executives and even a psychiatrist who runs a used book store.

The characters are wonderful and well-rounded, the setting is to die for, but the mystery is the best of all. It is a true whodunit, with blame bouncing around as evidence points in all different directions. When the answer finally comes it is not so much an ah ha! moment as an oh, no one, and that is one of the brilliances of Penny's fiction.
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LibraryThing member allthesedarnbooks
This is the fifth mystery in Penny's Three Pines/Inspecteur Gamache series. It's also, IMHO, the best yet, as well as the most emotionally wrenching, for reasons that I cannot go into without giving away spoilers. In Penny's hands, what could be a simple story is an emotional and intellectual tour de force. There are very few mystery writers who write with her level of skill, a level that takes this book past the usual cozy mystery fare and places it on par with so-called "literary fiction." Highly recommended, but make sure you read the rest of the series in order first, otherwise the impact might not be as delightfully devastating. Five stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member loosha
This is an utterly appealing murder mystery. The characters of Three Pines are so real, but you must read at least some of the previous books to get the most satisfaction from meeting them again: the irascible detective and his entourage, the crazy poet and her duck, the wise bookstore keeper, the insecure artists, the suspicious newcomers, and of course Olivier and Gabri.
Three Pines, an idyllic secluded Quebec forest village, complete with its colourful characters, is an unusual place for a corpse to turn up in the bistro, but we know this village is not a stranger to murder and mystery. Inspector Gamache goes to great lengths, actually as far as Haida Gwaii, to find the solution. Along the way, the reader is treated to an intimate glimpse of village life, through unexpected humour:
His mother was staring at him as though he’d peed in the Chateau Frontenac dining room. He knew that look from when he was a boy and peed in the Chateau Frontenac dining room. P. 148
And through culinary details:
Clara chopped the ends off the fresh carrots and watched Peter toss the tiny new potatoes into boiling water. They’d have a simple dinner tonight of vegetables from the garden with herbs and sweet butter. P. 261
Surely the bistro would make a great lobster thermidor, and of course you would be served bumbleberries with Cool Whip on Queen Charlotte Island. Such details are charming, but the progess of the mystery is what really kept me reading. And I found my old copy of [Morning in the Burning House] for an enjoyable interlude. Ruth quoted from a couple of these poems to console, confuse, or who knows what, but it fit well.
I’ll be one of the first to grab Louise Penny’s next book in this series. I want to see what happens to Gabri and Olivier, how Marc and Dominque make out, if Peter ever comes to terms with Carol’s success, and what Ruth gets up to next.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This is a story about the stories we tell about ourselves to others and the stories others tell us about themselves. This is a story about totems and myths and saints and fallen saints. Oh yes, it is also a murder mystery. I don't want to include any spoilers so all I can say is that if you have read the earlier Three Pines mysteries, and love the characters the way I do.....go directly to the book, do not pass go, do not collect,etc........It is wonderfully written and I could hardly take any breaks from it!… (more)
LibraryThing member drneutron
The Brutal Telling, and the Three Pines series as a whole, are very popular. Lots of readers like the characters and setting, especially. I tried to like this book. I wanted to liked this book. At first blush, it reminded me of Susan Hill's Simon Serailler series - a police procedural set in a small (in this case, English) town with lots of great atmosphere and characters. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it work for me.

My biggest problem with the book? Penny tries to portray characters with depth, but they just come across to me as maudlin. Also, it's inconceivable to me that someone who's supposed to be the best homicide investigator in all of Canada would do things like attend dinner parties with the primary suspects, even if Penny explains this by off-hand comments like one gets more information from parties than from interrogations. Meh. This isn't how I see police investigations going.

Given that The Brutal Telling is so popular, there must be something there people find attractive. I'll chalk this one up as one that just didn't work for me and recommend that if it piques your interest, check it out. You might be better suited for it than me.
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LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Brilliant! One of the best 3 in the series. But you really must read Still Life and Three Graces first to completely appreciate the cumulative effect of this book. Louise Penny has created a Canadian Brigadoon for 'the rest of us' in Three Pines--the town we all want access to. And it's filled with people we want to spend time with. And art she describes so well we almost can see it.

Yes, I'm a fully committed fan and I can't really tell you ANYTHING about this book or it will spoil the wonder for you.
If Still LIfe doesn't hook you, you have no soul. Sorry, but that's just the way it is LOL.

One of the most amazing things about Louise Penny's writing is that she allows even her favorite characters to have flaws that remind us what it is to be human. From the husband who can't help his jealousy when his wife's talent soars, to the woman who seems all flaws but has more heart than any three others you can name. No cardboard characters here.
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LibraryThing member ExVivre
If anyone had suggested that I read a "cozy mystery" before receiving this review copy of The Brutal Telling, they would have received a brutal telling-off. What is supposed to be cozy about nail-biting suspense and meticulous sleuthing? Well, wrap me in the Snuggie of Shame - I liked it.

Louise Penny's novel takes a master sleuth, Inspector Gamache (cast in the mould of Hercule Poirot with Quebecois clay), and drops him into Three Pines, a charming village with an alarming murder rate. The villagers are a close-knit group of people who all seem to have escaped high-powered life for the tranquility of rural Quebec. Of course, village life comes with pesky little irritants like dead bodies, secrets, and past lives that just won't stay hidden. But, that's the fun part!

In The Brutal Telling, the pesky corpse is found in in the village bistro owned by two of the most-beloved citizens. From there, Penny walks us through mystery, mirth, priceless treasures, and the small town mentality. She often takes a sideways turn to show us events unfolding in her characters' lives, and I occasionally forgot I was reading a murder mystery. A couple of the numerous characters are unidimensional, which gets 1 star knocked off, but the rest of the book is an all-around fun read.

PS - if the horses don't make you laugh, your soul is dead. :)

A warm and cozy Thank You to Minotaur Books and the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to review this book!
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LibraryThing member bohemima
This is not your mother's cozy village mystery. Louise Penny takes that conventional genre and turns it completely on its ear, creating a fresh new form.

We still have the closed set of suspects, complete with local oddballs, and the village setting, here updated to a tiny village in Quebec Province. There is the brilliant detective and his devoted but less-bright assistants. And there the similarity to the classics of the thirties and forties ends.

The author incorporates poetry, puns, literary references, and a keen but subtle sense of humor into a fascinating mystery. The plot is intriguing and the characters are fully-developed, complex people; there are no cardboard cutouts here. There is much information on art and on native American cultures, all dovetailed beautifully into the storyline.

If, like me, you're on the lookout for a mystery author who can engage your intelligence as well as your pleasure in puzzles, do try this. I can assure you that you won't be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member Ronrose1
Bon Dieu! How is it that I have not found this author before? "The Brutal Telling", by Louise Penny, is more than just a detective story. It is a literary novel. This work blends the lives of the characters and the reader by speaking to the souls of both. As in all great literature, the characters come to life through the words of the author, quickly becoming more than just the written word. The characters, such as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, are completely developed people, full of life. Each acting and reacting to the other characters in the novel. Have no doubt, this mystery novel leads us through a perplexing mystery surrounding the violent death of stranger in the small Canadian town of Three Pines. This is not the first time the Inspector and his team of Seretes investigators have been called to this out of the way place. Emotions run high as both long time friends and newcomers are brought under suspicion. If the earlier novels of this series are anything like this, I'll be hot on their trail.… (more)
LibraryThing member cygnet81
It was good but as a fan of this series I'm a bit concerned by the ending.
LibraryThing member mccin68
I have fallen in love with Louise Penny and Three Pines and in this book the murder of an unknown hermit rocks the small circle of friends; Peter, Clara, Ruth, Olivier, Myrna and Gabri.

I found the ending quite crushing, I was listening to an audiobook version and checked the CD case to make sure I wasn't missing the final CD.

Of all her books I have read so far (1, 3, 5 and 8) I feel that Chief Inspector Gamache and his team missed the mark, too many other concidences and leads that were not completely explained.

I'm onto book #6 in searching and hoping for a resolution.

I continue to enjoy the thorough plumbing of the human psyche she does and how human her characters are. The intertwining of themes make these book much richer for me than my other favorite-Agatha Christie.
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LibraryThing member txpam
I became one of Louise Penny's loyal followers with her first book. This is her fifth and it just gets better. More than a police procedural, it might not rank as literary fiction but it's close.
The village setting, inhabitants and daily rituals all succeed to pull in the reader and hold us tight as the plot unravels.
I will save the details for the reader-- you won't be disappointed and you'll want to return to Three Pines very soon.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
Here, Chief Inspector Gamache is investigating another murder in Three Pines, but the victim is a stranger and remains unknown through much of the book. This is a story about stories, about storytelling, about the stories and lies we tell ourselves and each other, the fictions we build as scaffolding around our lives to support and strengthen us. And what happens when that scaffolding collapses.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Another excellent mystery in Penny's Gamache series. Gamache's thoughtful understanding of human emotions, his humility and appetite for knowledge, Lacoste's intuitive and sensitive connection to those being investigated and questioned play counterpoint to Jean Guy Beauvoir's arrogance, condescension controlled by natural smarts, and love of his mentor, Gamache. This wonderful combination creates a rich, gratifying foundation for this series.

Impeccable timing, smart characters with story lines of their own, a strong plot based in history, art, literature, politics and set in Canada's natural wild beauty and you get a winner.

I was surprised Penny chose to take this direction. I wondered if it would/could happen in Three Pines; and I'm glad she's shown she is not afraid of going off the beaten path and getting lost in the woods.
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LibraryThing member sussabmax
I find it hard to believe this author has won numerous rewards. Hopefully, her earlier books were much better, because this one is formulaic, overly self-important and dramatic, and just plain irritating. Plus, ridiculous. This town has had four murders recently, and still they have no police force? Seems pretty unlikely to me.… (more)
LibraryThing member tymfos
The Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny, is part of a series set in the tiny village of Three Pines, Quebec. I had not read the previous volumes, but received an Advance Readers' Edition of this one through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, and this review is based on that copy.

A body is found in Olivier's bistro and antiques store. As the story begins, only Olivier and the reader know that Olivier spent time with the murdered man the night before, and was angry with him. But did he kill him? It's up to Chief Inspector Gamache to find the killer, whoever he or she may be.

As the story progresses and the cast of characters is introduced and developed, a list of other possible suspects emerges and lengthens, the plot twists and turns, and before long the reader begins to believe that nothing is quite as it seems in the village of Three Pines.

This book drew me in almost immediately. The characters are well-drawn and interesting (some bordering on the bizarre), and I enjoyed Penny's writing style. This writer can definitely turn a clever phrase. Early on, the dialogue was often wtty and some situations were humorous, though I would not consider this a "cozy." There are serious issues explored in this book; a dark side exists amidst the beauty of Three Pines.

As the story progressed, the plot thickened, and the web of relationships in Three Pines became more enigmatic. The atmosphere darkened, there was less humor, but Penny could still blow me away with an unexpected and delightful phrasing. Some of the plot turns might seem a little implausible (especially in retrospect), but the book carried me along because Penny had creaated characters that seemed so real, I wanted to know what happened to them.

There were also several sub-plots. These, like much of this book, tended to deal with issues of friendship, loyalty and greed. The author also did a good job of bringing in elements of Three Pines' history (the earlier volumes of the series) in a way that was natural and did not share too much information; it made me want to explore that history via those earlier books.

The ending, like much of real life, is not as tidy and neat as some readers might like. This is a book that leaves the reader thinking. I definitely want to read other books in this series!
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LibraryThing member cyderry
A body is found in the bistro in Three Pines and Inspector Armand Gamache is recruited to investigate. Difficulties arise when no one seems to know who he is or where he came from. But the reader knows and watches as the story unravels telling of a reclusive man who prized treasures of unknown value and who was victimized in more than one way.

The characters that Louise Penny has brought to life in all the previous installments of this series are front and center in this book. However, the characterizations are deepened and broadened until at some point we're not sure if they're the same person or have been transfigured by events past and present.

This is a magnificent story of love and friendship, greed and treachery, and final deliverance.
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LibraryThing member ijustgetbored
Penny's novel makes for a good cozy, even if it does have police leading the chase; it's quite gentle. Its small-village setting and cast of quiirky characters (many of whom, oddly, seem quite mean at times) and its non-twisted plot make for a gentle read.

So, if that's your cup of tea, this is a good novel for you to try. You'll never feel like you can't put it down, but you'll never feel overwhelmed, either.

The cast of characters is big, and, at first, I wished there were fewer, though I had caught up by the end. As I said, some of the characters seem just plain mean, and it's hard to get a connection with them.

My major complaint (possible spoiler here, so don't read on if you don't want to see) is that the murderer is so shockingly obvious. From the very get-go, you pretty much have to know whodunit.

Overall, a restful, if not suspenseful or particularly page-turner-ful mystery.
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LibraryThing member sfeggers
Another murder brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team back to the lovely village of Three Pines. This time, the victim is a seemingly unknown vagrant discovered in Gabri and Olivier's bistro. All the beloved and usual characters are there. The food served always inspires me to eat better and cook with more butter and cheese.

The mystery kept me guessing and I definitely didn't see the end coming. Louise Penny has plot points that sometimes make a difference to the ending and sometimes don't. Nothing is obvious but everything is precious and interesting.

There are some plot issues from previous books that I would like tidied up and finished but, as a stand alone book, The Brutal Telling, was a good mystery in a favorite place, and I look forward to the next visit with Chief Inspector Gamache, his team and the good people of Three Pines.
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LibraryThing member susanamper
In her first novel, Three Pines, Louise Penny wrote a truly compelling, original novel with interesting characters and a neat mystery. The novel had no subtitle. Her second, A Fatal Grace, was subtitled A Three Pines Mystery; her third was A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (A Three Pines mystery); her fourth similarly subtitled, and now this, her fifth, is an Armand Gamache novel. Clearly this is a writer in search of cash-cow series. Armand Gamache was a secondary character in her first novel, (by the way, her best), and that was as it should be. In fact, this series should not be a series at all but a one-off. Her second novel managed to retain some of the charm of the first, but by now, in The Brutal Telling, she is clearly grasping at straws.
Characters that seemed mildly quirky in the earlier novels are now horribly annoying. Ruth and her duck are just beyond the pale. Celery sticks and peanut butter are not a funny quirk. And not a single one of her friends would think so.
Clara and Peter--competing married artists--turn into cardboard figures here. Peter's jealousy at Clara's soon to be success is no longer an eccentricity--it is now a telling tale of his shallowness, and a reader can't help but wonder what Clara ever saw in him. And Clara's own "moment of truth" is so twenty years behind the times that a reader feels sorry not so much for Clara as for Louise Penny.
Essentially what this fifth in the series does is alert all readers to the shallowness of all the characters and the unsustainability of this series. Penny's many attempts at subtitles is a clue, but the plodding nature of this tale about a dead hermit is tell tale enough. Louise Penny, at least in this "series" is off my list.
I think Penny might be a gifted writer, but she will need a new tale to tell. I do, however, highly recommend the first in the series, and possibly even the second. After that, move along to something else.
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LibraryThing member allenkl
I was hooked by the end of the first chapter of The Brutal Telling. This book is beautifully written. The stories of the characters are woven very believably throughout the central mystery story. The depth and dark undercurrents keep this mystery from being "cozy", thank goodness!
While the fictional Three Pines may be inviting, Louise Penny makes me want to be in Haida Gwaii, a place I knew nothing about before reading her book.
Fans of Penny will find this her best yet. New readers will find a new author to explore, always a delight.
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LibraryThing member lindapanzo
On the surface, one could say that The Brutal Telling is the fifth entry in a police procedural series set in Three Pines, a small village in Quebec and featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and other memorable characters. But that's only part of the story.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a masterpiece in the contemporary mystery field. With most mysteries, I want to gulp them down, find out whodunnit. However, this mystery is meant to be savored, every page, every paragraph, every word.

In the past 30+ years, I've read almost 1,700 mysteries and I'd put The Brutal Telling in the top 10. Easily my favorite mystery of this year or from many recent years.

It's got elegance, it's got depth. Stunning!! Truly magnificent.
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