Title: Kingdom of the Blind
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group)
Date Published: November 2018
Length: 416 pages
I have a confession to make. When I first saw this novel I thought it was written by a different Louise! I remembered seeing a crime novel awhile ago by Louise Candlish except I’d forgotten her surname since then. So when I saw Kingdom of the Blind available for request and the first name of Louise Penny being, obviously, Louise, I thought it the same author! I realised it was a case of mistaken identity but as I read I realised I had mistakenly found in Louise Penny a new favourite writer and new favourite detective in Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec (police force for the Canadian province of Quebec).
One of my pet peeves is when a book starts too slowly and you have to force yourself to keep reading till it gets better. Fortunately Kingdom of the Blind had me hooked from the first page which is unusual for me. It starts with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (currently suspended) arriving at a dilapidated and spooky snowbound house. He has been summoned there along with two others, his friend and fellow Three Pines resident Myrna Landers and lastly Benedict Pouliot, unknown to the other two. These three discover they have been chosen as liquidators of a will. The only problem being they claim never to have met or known the deceased.
I have never read any Louise Penny books before so all the characters (many of which will be familiar to regular readers of the Gamache series) were new to me. While I’m sure it’s always helpful to have the back story of the characters in all honesty the way it is written I didn’t feel a stranger, or rather the characters didn’t feel like strangers to me.
A strength of the book is that the location of Three Pines, where most of the main characters live, feels like a strong character in itself and the warmth of the interaction between the characters draws you in. You really want to live there yourself and be part of the community.
The main plot thread involves Gamache’s investigation into the will of the deceased especially after the discovery of a body which creates a whole new scenario. While this main story line is interesting in itself, I confess I actually enjoyed one of the side story lines more. This involves the search for lethal drugs allowed into the country and is the reason for Gamache’s suspension. Louise Penny’s descriptions of the depraved life and environment of the drug addicts is harrowing if brief and I’d have liked to read more of that as it’s written so well giving a real sense of despair on the streets.
A character I loved was Cadet and Gamache protege Amelia Choquet whom Gamache apparently rescued from a messed up life on the streets and took her into the Cadet Academy. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander in Choquet and I’d love to know her better. While the investigation into the mysterious will took centre stage through most of the book, the bits I looked forward to reading most were Amelia Choquet’s much less numerous scenes. This is the first Gamache book I’ve read though so perhaps Choquet has more ‘screen time’ in previous books.
A strength of the book is the dialogue between the Three Pines residents. I usually dislike scenes with dialogue which seem irrelevant to the actual story but Penny’s creative dialogue with multiple quirky, odd and uniquely eccentric characters (having a pet duck?) is frequently funny and, crucially, made me want to listen to them even if the subject was nothing to do with the story. If they had been discussing knitting patterns I’d still have wanted to listen!
While I mostly followed the threads of the investigation by the time it came to the final revelations I confess I was struggling a bit to remember what was going on but I had the gist of it and that was enough. One thing I found a little lacking was that while there are action sequences in the book they were quite short where I felt several had potential to be longer and increase the tension. Another strange thing was that while Chief Inspector Gamache appears to be suspended because of actions to do with a previous case (presumably in a previous novel) he still seems to be able to call on police support and lead an investigation. Maybe when you reach the rank of Chief Inspector you get to take some liberties!
After the book has finished there’s a touching afterword from Louise Penny about how the book came to be written at all after her husband died. It’s a short but genuinely moving testimony and made me view the book in a new light, grateful to have it to read at all. After this there are a couple of descriptions of the real life places which inspired locations in Three Pines where the characters gather.
I am so glad I mistakenly requested this book and I have already purchased the Kindle version of the very first Armand Gamache book so I can follow the characters from the beginning. Highly recommended.
Review based on NetGalley/Little Brown Book Group ARC.
Thanks for reading.