Monday, August 24, 2015

The Nature of the Beast by Louie Penny

First Sentence: Running, running, stumbling, running.

Armand Gamache, retired from being the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, and his wife Reine-Marie are now living in Three Pines. Armand befriends a young boy known to have an overwhelming imagination telling stories of beasts and monsters to the residents of the town. When he claims to have found something that others must see, no one takes him seriously. Until he disappears and it’s found the story was not fiction, but very real, and very dangerous; changing the lives of the residents and potentially impacting far more than the tiny village of Three Pines.

We begin with a situation that is tense and threatening—or is it. Such is the uncertainty to which we are introduced. Never was an author more adept at descriptions, painting verbal pictures that take us from the sublime to the comic. Penny conveys emotion so well. You feel the support of Reine-Marie, Armand’s wife, for her husband, yet her concern as well, the closeness and teasing of the circle of friends and their concern for one another.

Penny has created a cast of characters who become real to us. Even if one has not read previous books in the series, many seem to be as old friends, yet we learn more about some of them, and find some are not as we had previously perceived. Yet, the circle has expanded, as there are new members as well. As with life, all are imperfect people, some with very human phobias; they are, some with character weaknesses; some small, some very large and serious. Some characters accept the responsibilities and results of their weaknesses, while others have buried them away within themselves, and others simply refuse to acknowledge them at all.

The underlying theme of the story and an excellent discussion to all art in general, is whether we can, or should, separate art from its creator…”Do you think a work should be judged by its creator? Or should it stand on its own?” …”Would I want a painting by Jeffrey Dahmer, or to serve a meal from the Stalin family cookbook?...” There is a play within the story, and the point at which Penny anthropomorphizes it, is interesting indeed.

Penny takes the readers from light, to shadow, and into complete blackness; both real and conceptually. Her imagery can break your heart, and both the readers and the characters are thrust into the completely unexpected. The story is remarkable and frightening in that a central element is based on an actual person in history.

Yet not all is darkness. The dialogue is easy and natural. At times it is light and teasing, re-affirming the relationships between the characters. Mouth-watering descriptions of meals shared—also helps lighten the mood…”The scallops were large and succulent and grilled golden brown. They lay on a bed of grains and fresh herbs and roasted pine nuts and goat cheese next to a warm grilled apple.” Yet, Penny also understands the relationship of people to their surroundings…”If the topic of conversation was harsh, at least the atmosphere could be gentle.”

One cannot help but enjoy Ms. Penny’s literary and pop-culture references; from Yeats, to “Lord of the Rings,” to old Andy Hardy movies--such things bring us comfort, make us feel safe and add an air of normalcy to the darkness one senses is coming. And yes, darkness is a major theme; the darkness of absolutely grief, physical darkness and the fear it can inspire, the darkness of war, the darkness of men’s souls, and the darkness in our own minds that obscures our perception of what is right and wrong.

This book is no cozy, although it does not contain any graphic violence. Plot twists are used very effectively to cleverly and horribly complete a circle. This is a true traditional mystery with emotional depth demonstrating how something which happens locally can have a far-reaching impact.

Nature of the Beast” is wonderfully plotted; intricate and compelling. It makes you think and feel. It contains all the best elements of racing against time and against true evil. And finally, it is about having the awareness of having to face oneself, one’s past and one’s actions, and then having the strength to move forward.

THE NATURE OF THE BEAST (Trad/Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Three Pines, Canada-Contemp) - Ex
Penny, Louise - 11th in series
Minotaur Books – Aug, 2015

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