Book review: ‘A Better Man’ by Louise Penny

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Quebec in the early spring is unpredictable. It can be a harbinger of summer or a winter hangover. This year was no exception except that there seemed to be too much warm weather too soon. Flooding had already started, and it would get worse because ice was breaking up and that meant ice dams.

Because of a previous event and internal politics, Armond Gamache had been put on leave and demoted — demoted from head of the Provincial Police of Quebec to head of the homicide department. Considering the demotion, Gamache was not expected to return, but the homicide department was where he felt most comfortable and where he was most respected. He would replace his son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who was soon to leave to take a position in Paris out of policing.

Gamache had not settled in yet when one of the agents in the department begged him to investigate a missing persons case. The daughter of a friend of hers had promised to come to his house and had failed to do so. The father was frantic, as his daughter had an abusive husband, and the father just knew the husband had done something to her.

Agent Lysette Cloutier, the agent in question, convinced Gamache to become involved. This was made easier since Beauvoir was still in charge and Gamache had little else to do. When they arrived at the father’s home, they discovered a distraught man blaming her husband and threatening to beat the truth out of him. Homer Godin, the father, left little doubt that Carl Tracy was to blame for his daughter’s disappearance. Tracy had a history of abuse known to the local police.

There are other elements to the story. One of them takes place in Three Pines, where Gamache now lives. Clara Morrow, an artist friend, is being taken to task on social media regarding the series of miniatures she has recently completed. Very nasty comments are aimed at her and her work. Was her earlier work overestimated? Reine-Marie Gamache was a part of the same social group as Clara, so she felt her pain. As though that wasn’t enough, Reine-Marie was also seeing the nasty comments posted about her husband regarding the suspension and his return.

Three Pines was located next to the Bella Bella River. The Bella Bella was one of the rivers swelled by the runoff and was very susceptible to ice jams; that didn’t bode well for Three Pines. Everyone in town became involved in sandbagging along the river.

When Gamache had done what he could for Godin, he returned to Three Pines to help. Beauvoir also came to help. The flooding Bella Bella offered to first clue to Carl Tracy’s wife’s fate.

Vivienna Tracy was found drowned and floating in Bella Bella backwater. It was known that she was pregnant, so there were really two deaths there. After some investigation, it seemed like an airtight case had been established. Not so — the judge found that the case had been poisoned by procedures followed or not followed. The father,Homer Godin, intended to see that justice was done.

“A Better Man” is a complex mystery with many moving parts. Half-truths tend to clog the investigation. It takes some time for clarification and to discover the rest of the story.

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