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The cruelest month by Louise Penny

The cruelest month (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Louise Penny

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Title:The cruelest month
Authors:Louise Penny (Author)
Info:New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2008.
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, female author, canadian, canada, quebec, montreal, three pines, crime, mystery, family, police procedural, male detective, police detective, gamache, series-3rd, st. martin's press, st. martin's minotaur, macmillan, bookshelf07, read2013, TIOLI

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The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny (2007)


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[Cross-posted to Knite Writes]


A year or so after the events of A Fatal Grace, the tiny village of Three Pines is enjoying its Easter holiday when, during a poorly thought-out seance in the death trap known as the Hadley House, a woman named Madeleine dies — apparently from fright.

And so Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate the death. As soon as a toxicology report determines Madeleine died due to the influence of a drug, ephedra, Gamache classifies the death a murder and begins to investigate the people of Three Pines once more.

He uncovers a complex web of relationships revolving around the victim and a consensus that she was a talented, wonderful woman who always came out on top and succeeded at everything she tried. But as the story begins to unfold, piece by piece, Gamache comes to understand that sometimes, always being the best may have negative affects on those around you.

As it is in his own life. During his investigation, Gamache’s own past catches up to him — the infamous Arnot case rears its ugly head again, and this time, Arnot’s supposed supporters go after Gamache’s family, smearing their names and even getting his son arrested. Gamache, though furious, continues his work on the case, and in the midst of revelations about Madeleine’s friends and family, he uncovers a devastating secret about his own.

His lifelong friend, Michel Brebouf, is behind the latest attacks on Gamache. Brebouf, driven to hatred by Gamache’s ability to calmly stand against every attack, every hardship, and every letdown in his life, to stay truly happy no matter what, wants to take him down once and for all. But his plan backfires. His spy, Agent Lemieux, breaks free of his influence and almost kills Gamache during the final confrotation, only to be stopped by the universally hated Agent Nichol, who’s been working for Gamache the whole time.

Lemieux is arrested, Brebouf resigns, and Agent Nichol is redeemed. Gamache, hurt at the betrayal of his friend, manages to remain standing, and goes on to solve the murder of Madeleine.

Turns out Hazel, her closest friend, the one who took her in when she was ill with cancer, was the culprit. Driven to fury by Madeleine’s gradual (and unintentional) usurpation of all Hazel cared about, she was eventually driven to killing the woman she called her closest friend.

The End

Cue Sequel.


My Take

I enjoyed this installment substantially more than the first two. The building Arnot story line is what interests me most about this series, and the development of that plot kept me going throughout, negating the somewhat boring “coziness” of the murder mystery. Thus, this book was “less cozy” than its predecessors and a bit more intense. For the past couple of books, Gamache has seemed pretty untouchable and somewhat static, but this book develops his character further by showing his true skills as a detective and playing on his insecurities and fears concerning the repercussions of the Arnot case.

My favorite aspect of this installment was watching the development of those around Gamache, specifically his fellow Surete officers, watching how they responded to the events of the story, how they responded to Gamache’s actions, and what choices they made concerning the main themes of the novel. A lot of the characters who have seemed minor and occasionally insignificant are given greater depth, and to me, that represents a (successful) attempt to continually enrich the cast of the series, preparing them for events to come.

I did find the murder mystery to be a bit weaker than the ones in the previous two books, but that may have been because it was overshadowed by the more serious and tenser Arnot plot line — the stakes were far higher for the latter, and they revolved around the central character, whereas the murder mystery fell a little flat, revolving around a few minor characters that held little interest for me.

Overall, I think the series is finally picking up a bit, although I do wish the murder mystery had a bit more substance. And maybe a sense of danger.



Penny’s writing hasn’t noticeably changed from the first book to this installment. She’s consistent, and her prose is solid. Great, vivid descriptions. Still a little too omniscient for me — the POV doesn’t quite fit the story well enough. But it doesn’t bother me that much. It’s not a deal breaker.


Is It Worth Reading?

Again, this is still pretty “cozy,” so if that’s not for you, I wouldn’t recommend this. If you don’t mind the “coziness,” and you like the first two books, you can’t go wrong with this one. I’m reading on because, like usual, I cheated and read about what happens later in the series (and am very excited to get there), so while I’m not super-thrilled about the series so far, it’s enjoyable enough to keep me going.



3.5/5 ( )
  ClaraCoulson | Nov 16, 2015 |
Best so far of the series. Penny does take quite a lot of time to establish atmosphere and suspense--sometimes lays it on a bit thick. Like the turn taken about the Arnot case. ( )
  crosbyp | Nov 14, 2015 |
In The Cruelest Month, another death in Three Pines - in the old Hadley house - turns into a murder investigation when tests reveal that Madeleine was not merely frightened to death, but dosed with ephedra, which can kill those with preexisting heart conditions. But who would want to kill delightful, lovely Madeleine? At first there are no obvious suspects, but soon nearly everyone becomes a suspect.

Meanwhile, Gamache faces libelous newspaper articles about himself and his family; the Arnot case, and the enemies it made him in the Surete, refuse to go away. He finally tells his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, more of the story of the case.

Another subplot involves Peter and Clara, as Clara prepares for a visit from Denis Fortin and Peter struggles with his jealousy of the attention Clara's work is receiving.

It took me a bit longer to get into the story in print than it did with the first two books, which I listened to, but once I was drawn in, it was hard to put down.


Everything had changed. Even her grammar. Suddenly she lived in the past tense. And the singular. (Hazel, 144)

"Just because I can answer an accusation doesn't mean I must." (Gamache to Beauvoir, 187)

He wasn't a stupid man and knew most people didn't talk to trees but he figured that was their problem. (Gilles, 188)

They were kind people, he knew. But even kind people can be afraid. (Gamache, 205)

Our secrets make us sick because the separate us from other people....A murder almost always began with a secret Murder was a secret spread out over time. (275)

"...As deeply and totally as unrequited love can be. In many ways it's the deepest because it's never tested." (Gamache, 281-282) ( )
  JennyArch | Oct 18, 2015 |
The town of Three Pines reminds me of Cabot Cove, Maine -- the setting for the TV show Murder She Wrote. It's an idyllic small town, with all of the quirky personalities, and oozing charm. People have deep long lasting friendships and unlike us, have time to get together regularly with friends for delicious Quebecois meals. It sounds perfect, with just one drawback -- people seem to be murdered regularly. I'm not sure if it's the charm of Three Pines, the amazing friendships, or the literary power behind these mysteries, but I love them. Good news? I'm only on book 3 and there are plenty more in the series. ( )
  jmoncton | Oct 14, 2015 |
Welcome back to the quirky, quaint little village of Three Pines in Canada. It's Eastertime in the village, and the trees are just beginning to bud. To celebrate the holiday the villagers have arranged to hold a séance in the creepy old Hadley residence. Before the night is over, one member of the party will be dead. What appears to be a simple natural death may have been caused by something more sinister. Once again Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team including the inept Yvette Nichol, find themselves investigating crime in the isolated village.

The Bottom Line: The character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is interesting and complex. With two story arcs, there are plenty of surprising twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end. This charming cozy series is suitable for weekend reading, and this installment is the perfect entertainment for a rainy, lazy day. This literary treat will appeal to mystery buffs who enjoy eccentric characters.

This review also appears at the Mini Book Bytes Book Review Blog. ( )
  aya.herron | Sep 9, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louise Pennyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chabalier, LouiseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nagano, KiyomiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saint-Germain, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stumpf, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werbeck, GabrieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire . . .
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
For my brother Rob and his wonderful family, Audi, Kim, Adam and Sarah, with love
First words
Kneeling in the fragrant moist grass of the village green Clara Morrow carefully hid the Easter egg and thought about raising the dead, which she planned to do right after supper.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Chief Insp. Armand Gamache and his team investigate another bizarre crime in the tiny Québec village of Three Pines in Penny's expertly plotted third cozy (after 2007's A Fatal Grace). As the townspeople gather in the abandoned and perhaps haunted Hadley house for a séance with a visiting psychic, Madeleine Favreau collapses, apparently dead of fright. No one has a harsh word to say about Madeleine, but Gamache knows there's more to the case than meets the eye. Complicating his inquiry are the repercussions of Gamache having accused his popular superior at the Sûreté du Québec of heinous crimes in a previous case. Fearing there might be a mole on his team, Gamache works not only to solve the murder but to clear his name. Arthur Ellis Award–winner Penny paints a vivid picture of the French-Canadian village, its inhabitants and a determined detective who will strike many Agatha Christie fans as a 21st-century version of Hercule Poirot. (Mar.)

When C.I. Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec is called to the village the next morning he faces an unusual crime scene. A séance in an old, abandoned house has gone horrifically wrong and a villager lies still, spirited away - apparently frightened to death.
Gamache soon discovers that in idyllic Three Pines not all is as it should be. Toxic secrets lie buried, and something fetid and festering has clawed its way out. And even Gamache has something to hide. He is shielding his team from a terrible truth. A powerful enemy within the Sûreté has planted a traitor amongst them. Who will betray him? And how far will they go to ensure Gamache's downfall?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312944500, Mass Market Paperback)

When a group of villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death? Or was the victim somehow helped along?

Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. He knows evil when he sees it. But this time, he’s investigating a case that will force him to face his very own ghosts...as well as those residing in this seemingly idyllic town. Are the residents of Three Pines hiding something great and sinister about their past? Or is April about to deliver on its fateful threat?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:42 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the S?urete du Quebec is called to investigate the death of a villager at an Easter seance that was held at the Old Hadley House.

(summary from another edition)

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