The sixteenth book for the book challenge was The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, another Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery that I reread in my quest to read the books in order. The book title refers to the month of April in Canada, when the weather is so unpredictable, when it can be warm one day and the flowers can bloom and buds burst forth but snow the next and a killing frost can occur or a snowstorm and beat down the beautiful flowers. That is what happens in this mystery story.
A psychic, Jeanne Chavet, had come to the village for a little rest and relaxation, but Gabri had organized a séance on Good Friday at the Bistro, only it wasn’t a real séance, more like a psychic reading with tarot cards and runes. But it was decided then to hold a real séance at the old Hadley house on Easter night. So after a dinner at Peter and Clara Murrow’s home, Myrna, Gabri, Clara, Madeleine and her housemate Hazel, her daughter Sophie, Madeleine’s friend Monsieur Béliveau, and Odile Montmagny and her partner Gilles Sandon set out for the old Hadley house for the séance. On the way over, Clara heard Odile warn Madeleine to stay away from Gilles, though Madeleine had no interest in Gilles.
As the séance commenced, Jeanne sprinkled salt in a circle around the chairs and candles were lit in a circle and at the compass points. Then she said, “They’re here. They’re coming.” And she clapped. And Madeleine fell over dead.
It was treated as a suspicious death because she was young and healthy, and when the tests came back, they showed she had extremely high levels of ephedra in her blood. Madeleine had had breast cancer and chemotherapy had weakened her heart, and the ephedra, combined with a weakened heart, and a fright could cause a heart attack. It was concluded that someone had murdered Madeleine in this way.
But who could have given the ephedra to Madeleine? And why? Everyone loved Madeleine. Who could have possibly wanted her dead? These are the questions that Armand Gamache and his team from the Sureté du Québec must answer in order to solve the mystery of Madeleine Favreau’s death.
But while they are busy solving this mystery, Armand Gamache must also deal with personal scandal which is erupting in his own life. Someone in the Sureté is planting false stories about him and his family in the newspapers and on the television; even in France where his son is living, the young man has been accused of smuggling drugs. There is no truth to any of these rumors but they are wreaking havoc on Gamache’s personal life and he must discover who is behind them and stop this person. What he doesn’t realize is that discovering the identity of the individual will rock him to his core and nearly destroy his world.
This marvelous book has two mysteries to be solved–the mystery of Madeleine Favreau’s death and the mystery of who is planting the false rumors about Gamache and his family. Penny weaves a masterful story around these two themes as well as the minor themes of Clara’s painting that she is finishing for Denis Fortin and Ruth’s care of the ducklings Rosa and Lilium. Penny is a skilled mystery writer who touches the emotions as she leads us down dark corridors to the endings she has crafted for us.