This is the second novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, but it also works as a stand-alone novel. Yes, there are a few things from the first novel, Still Life, that are referenced in this book, but it’s not a huge barrier to entry.
I don’t read many cozy mysteries, so it’s a bit hard for me to give up the rollicking plots of mysteries with a thriller edge. The plot is not the main reason to enjoy this book: the main draws are the characters and the writing. This series takes place in Three Pines, a small village near Montreal, a village populated with interesting but not too eccentric people. It’s very reminiscent of Cicely, Alaska from the TV show Northern Exposure: an isolated, village in northern climes with interesting folks. Three Pines is full of interesting, artistic folks.
The mystery itself was not a huge draw for me because the murder victim was not a sympathetic sort, unlike the murder victim in Still Life. For a dash of intrigue, the sub-plot involving Gamache’s relationship with the police department was a lot more interesting than the unraveling of CC’s murder.
I’d recommend this book for people looking for a story with lived-in, psychologically-well-drawn characters. It’s not a thrill-ride, but it’s a pleasant story about an unpleasant murder solved by a supremely charming detective. Refreshing is the word that comes to mind: it’s refreshing that Gamache is in a stable and happy marriage, and the story is a refreshing take on dour subject matter.