regular-article-logo Friday, 02 June 2023

In the dark

Louise Penny seems more invested in fleshing out her characters and the ambience rather than in her plot

Kajori Patra Published 03.03.23, 06:02 AM

Book: A World of Curiosities

Author: Louise Penny


Publisher: Minotaur

Price: $29.99

Darkness is a familiar presence in Louise Penny’s works. In A World of Curiosities, she takes her readers, once again, to the depths of ugly, frightening places. Unlike the last Armand Gamache mystery, which failed to stir interest, this book combines the thrill of a whodunit with a deeper, humane appeal. It follows three different timelines woven carefully so that the seepage of the past into the present creates a blurry space of confusion and drama. For instance, the graduation ceremony of the two women, Fiona Arsenault and Harriet Landers, whose mothers had died in terrible tragedies, is a bittersweet moment for Chief Inspector Gamache and his son-in-law, Detective JeanGuy Beauvoir: the ghosts from the women’s pasts are linked to pivotal moments in the officers’ lives.

A World of Curiosities reveals a secret realm buried deep within a room that had been sealed for over a century and invites readers to inspect the patchy history of colonial art, original settlers, witchhunts and riddled codes. A mysterious letter from 1862 reaches Three Pines, Gamache’s home town, leaving a trail of blood behind it and making Gamache suspect that his nightmarish past will soon knock on his doors.

Penny seems more invested in fleshing out her characters and the ambience rather than in her plot. The École Polytechnique tragedy in Quebec, where women were murdered for pursuing degrees in engineering, is, as Penny writes, an inspiration.

Surprisingly for a chronicler of mysteries, the climax of some of Penny’s books seems forced, even hasty. A World of Curiosities is not an exception. Ironically, her detailed exploration of the unkind histories of women in this work makes readers expect a better denouement.

Yet, A World of Curiosities stays with readers even after its last lines have been read. This is not because the reader is left wanting more. It is because Penny raises questions, not so much about the plot as about oneself.

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