Louise Penny – All the Devils are Here – St. Martin’s Press, 2020 (An Inspector Gamache story)
It used to be that movies and television shows relied on books for their inspiration. These days I’m beginning to suspect that crime/mystery novels are borrowing the techniques of popular television series. There is the first novel where you’re introduced to the characters and find out if the cast is interesting enough to keep you asking for more. There are hints about earlier occurrences in the main character’s life and backstories begin to emerge, creating two story lines that intermingle – the main menu with the murder and mayhem and the parallel sub-story involving the personal lives of the characters. The personal sub-story will continue being developed throughout the entire series of books or episodes of a TV series. It’s a formula that has been successful milked since we departed from the days of Dragnet’s ‘just the facts, ma’am’. You no doubt can rattle off dozens of examples from TV: ‘Bones’ (…swab the particulates out of that mandible so I can bounce it off Booth’s head and distract him from his gambling addiction…) or the medical dramas like ‘The Good Doctor’, ‘House’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy (…we’ll have to perform this completely impossible operation – just as soon as we finish shagging in the linen closet…).
As any of these series progress, you find the writers becoming increasingly drawn to greater thrills and chills, even if the novelty creates some holes in the story line and stretches credibility beyond reason. The search for something newer, different and more exciting almost always guarantees a great reliance on serial killers (or sequential killers if you’re Murdoch – cereal killers if you’re young and addicted to Captain Crunch). If the series is very successful and the budget increases, you can trade the studio in for an exotic destination. In novels this means going to a place the author wants to visit in a tax deductible holiday – it’s called researching the new setting.
My friend Peach introduced me to the Inspector Gamache series a few years ago and I’ve enjoyed reading a number over the years. It’s set in Quebec, alternating between urban Montreal and rural Three Pines, a small town that, like the Cabot Cove of ‘Murder She Wrote’, has more than its fair share of homicidal maniacs as a percentage of the population. The main character is perhaps more reflective and introspective than his TV counterparts who always seem to have leaped from their mother’s womb with a revolver in hand. Gamache works for the Sûreté du Québec (the provincial police force in Quebec) and spends almost as much time fighting the politics of the force as he does solving murders. But Gamache also has a gentle side with strong loyalties to his family and friends. I can’t wait for him to join Poirot in the garden, growing root vegetables.
It’s an entertaining series and Ms. Penny has an engaging style that’s well worth a read. ‘All the Devils are Here’ is the latest in seventeen Gamache novels. Like a long running television series, it’s time for Gamache to flit away from Quebec, Montreal and Three Pines. Paris is Ms. Penny’s choice and she obviously enjoyed her research trip to the city of lights, love and fashion. We’re also at the point where mundane rural killers must give way to higher octane thrills: nefarious plots, cover-ups, intrigue, soulless international corporations, international finance and crooked cops. It’s also the point when the personal story gets to step to the forefront. Gamache’s sour relationship with his son gets an airing and what better way to get down to sleuthing than having Gamache’s billionaire godfather victimized and at the centre of all this Parisian murder, mystery and mayhem?
With the Eiffel tower as a backdrop and a plot decidedly more action packed than the earlier novels, ‘All the Devils are Here’ will keep fans turning the page. If there are a few places where the plot departs from the rational and runs screaming into the realm of television style ridiculousness, consider it part of the quest for greater thrills – as television writers discovered long ago, viewers get jaded quite quickly and crave new and bigger thrills. They don’t seem to care if it means writing scenes that are ridiculous and implausible. Let’s face it, you’ve got to keep the fans happy and Ms. Penny has a lot of loyal fans.
Sacré bleu – no one can be trusted but the Inspector?