Monday, May 04, 2009

Quebec: 'The Cruellest Month' by Louise Penny - a Three Pines state of mind.

Follow Autoroute 10 southeast from Montreal towards the Eastern Townships, and after about an hour's drive turn off south down a country road into the mountains towards the US border.

This road will lead you deeper and deeper into the forest until the path becomes a dirt track and you stumble across a village "nestled in the palm of the rugged Canadian mountains, protected and hidden and rarely found except by accident".

This is the delightful fictional community of Three Pines as described by Louise Penny in her novels featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

The Cruellest Month is the third in the series but my first exposure to this idyllic location - a place I feel I would love to linger, despite the mortality rate. When I began the story I thought it might be a mistake to pick up the series in the middle - I had to concentrate quite hard to unravel the backstory of corruption and double-dealing in the Quebec police. I also wasn't sure which characters I should be familiar with, but I drew up a list of names and roles of the kind often found in 'golden age' mysteries, which helped, and I was soon caught up in the storytelling.

The story follows C.I Gamache as he is called to investigate the death of a vibrant and popular Three Pines resident during a seance in a haunted house - apparently of fear. What follows is a classic "closed community" whodunnit with a convincing selection of suspects unfolding alongside the machinations of dark forces against Gamache in the Québec Sûreté.

The Eastern Townships (Estrie) region of Quebec is a landscape of mountains, valleys, hills and picturesque villages which have become established favourites for visitors. There are several tourism sites: this one has a link to videos of the region (in French) and this is an official Quebec Tourism site.

Three Pines itself is a fictional village, in the general area shown on my map. Some consider Three Pines to be based on the author's own home village of Sutton, but Louise Penny herself says: "Three Pines itself I think of as simply a state of mind, we can always visit when we choose kindness over cynicism."

In fact she has used the mountain resort of Sutton as a basis for the fictional St Remy in the stories. Another fictional location in the story based on a real place is Williamsburg, which is roughly based on the lovely village of Knowlton. The real Cowansville is the site of the area's hospital, where the post-mortem of the victim in The Cruellest Month is carried out.

The latest Three Pines novel The Murder Stone (A Rule Against Murder - US) recently been released in the UK - Louise Penny talks about it on YouTube here.

The Cruellest Month is just the kind of puzzle I enjoy most, and the solution kept me guessing right until the end. I can hardly wait to read the other books - but unfortunately I have to, until they become available to Sony Readers in the UK!

Click on the image above to read a fascinating interview with Louise penny in Shots Ezine, a recommended read for those of us who enjoy crime fiction!


Dorte H said...

I just skimmed the review; this book is still on its way to me from Kerrie in Australia, but it is so nice to see your maps and pictures (knowing I can come back when I read the book and place it on my internal map).

Kerrie said...

My review is at

I enjoyed your overview of the area

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First, I have been in Quebec many times because my sister live there, so I think that Louise Penny is an excellent woman, her books are spectacular , she is so good because is an award-winning Canadian author of mystery novels.

safemeds said...

I like to drive. So I travel a lot to Canada and other states in car and Canada is my favorite place to go.

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