Like this book’s author, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is revisiting Paris – a place that haunts him with shadows of the past – from his home near Montréal in Canada. He’s in the City of Light with his wife Reine-Marie, son and daughter, and their spouses and children. They’re eagerly awaiting the birth of Armand’s third granddaughter.
On that first night in Paris they meet for a family dinner with Armand’s billionaire godfather and mentor, Stephen Horowitz, a businessman who is ruthless in hunting those who do wrong. As they leave the restaurant, Stephen is mowed down in a hit and run by a stolen van and the family’s hospital visit switches from preparing for a birth to expecting a death.
As Armand sits by the comatose 93-year-old man’s bedside and tells him he loves him, he’s sure that this was no accident, but a deliberate attempt on Stephen’s life. But what could be the motive? Sure, he had probably had enemies, people he had pursued, but why now, in Paris?
Armand calls his friend Claude Dussault, who happens to be the Prefect of Police in Paris. Any doubts that the hit and run wasn’t intentional are swept away when Armand discovers the body of a murdered stranger, shot in Stephen’s ransacked apartment. What’s more, someone is still in the place so Armand gives chase but loses the possible killer.
What ensues is the swift realisation that his godfather has been keeping secrets from his past hidden from his family and each discovery brings with it many unsettling questions. Why did Stephen book and stay in a mind-blowingly expensive suite in the George V Hotel, rather than stay in his own rooms? Despite their closeness and Armand’s ability to read most people, it is clear that Stephen had always remained an enigma. Now it’s obvious he was up to something momentous and he hadn’t trusted his closest associates.
Armand is treated like a bumpkin for his Québecois accent by the Parisian police’s second in command, who also suspects him to some degree. Jean-Guy Beauvoir, an ex cop and Armand’s son-in-law is also being treated like a fool, by his number two at GHS Engineering in Paris, where he is a department head.
The opening chapters explain Armand’s relationship with Stephen and their shared history in the French capital when Armand was a boy. You may find that backstory, and the description of the family’s contemporary situation slows down the action at the start.
However, once we are in, everything moves swiftly along and the family dynamic creates higher stakes. They are all at risk from those who wished Stephen harm. It’s impossible for Armand or us to know just who to trust, as each ally and suspect has reasons to lie or conceal.
Soon there are many twisty strands of leads, including one that suggests Stephen had a shady past in the War, whilst another points to a dodgy link with GHS. There’s a heck of a lot of characters to keep up with too, not helped by the fact that they are referred to alternatively by first names and surnames.
A subplot underpinning the narrative is Armand’s desperate need to win the love of his son Daniel, who reveals a childhood trauma and unhealed wounds that have destroyed their relationship. Unless Armand can convince Daniel to trust him, the family, it turns out, will remain in jeopardy.
Fans of the Gamache mystery series have so far followed the stories set in Three Pines, a cosy small community in Québec. The story switches to Paris because Jean-Guy, formerly a senior investigator under Armand, has moved to Paris to work at GHS, where his daughter is about to be born.
Louise Penny is an elegant and empathetic writer, who tells the story with sophisticated deftness. Paris is a shining character showing her dark side – as Stephen tells the young Armand: “All the devils are here.”
In the afterword, Penny admits that revisiting Paris was like visiting ghosts, as she fell for the luminous city with her late husband Michael, as the Gamaches do.
Since our last review of her work two years ago, when we suggested she should move to a new setting and we gave Kingdom of the Blind three stars, she’s got her mojo back.
CLF Rating: 4 Stars