Saturday, April 5, 2008

Louise Penny's "The Cruelest Month"

Louise Penny's first Three Pines mystery, Still Life, won the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the New Blood Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association. In the United States, it received the Dilys Award for the book that the members of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association most enjoyed selling over the past year.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Cruelest Month, the newly released (in the U.S.) third novel in the Three Pines mystery series, and reported the following:
What fun these tests are. In my latest book, The Cruelest Month, page 99 (sounds like Get Smart a little, doesn't it? Hello, Chief?) finds three women struggling with going into the old Hadley house. This is the sorrow on the hill, the house that literally casts a shadow over the gentle little village of Three Pines. A murder has happened there, in the middle of a seance intended to raise the dead and rid the place of whatever malevolent spirit has gripped it. Not really a very good idea.

I think the page 99 test works quite well for The Cruelest Month. It shows how Agent Lacoste (no, not Agent 99) came to be on Chief Inspector Gamache's team. She was in the process of being fired from the Surete, for being a little too 'out-there'. Specifically, she liked to talk to the dead, to do small and personal prayers by the site of the death. To reassure the dead they hadn't been forgotten. But just as her superior was about to fire her, Gamache arrived and invited her to join his team.

Working for Homicide, and specifically for Armand Gamache, is the elite of the Surete. She couldn't believe her luck.

But now she's faced with deciding how important her beliefs are, and how strong her resolve is. If she's to reassure this murder victim she'd have to go into this wretched house. She asks for help, in the form of two villagers, Clara Morrow and Myrna Landers.

We get to see a very personal and private side of Agent Lacoste, we get insight into how Gamache chooses his team and the qualities he admires and rewards, and we see the loving relationship between Clara and Myrna.

Frankly all you really need to read is page 99 - and perhaps 69. Then you're essentially done. Would you believe...
Read an excerpt from The Cruelest Month, and learn more about the book and its author at Louise Penny's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue