Kingdom of the Blind has an unusual structure. As it’s the first book I’ve read in the Chief Inspector Gamache series I’m not sure whether this is always the case, or whether the author has leeway to push the boundaries of the genre because she already has a loyal following, but at first it’s not clear it’s about a murder at all.
Gamache is invited by a notary to attend a meeting at a remote cottage near his Quebec home. He arrives during a blizzard where he is asked if he will be the liquidator (executor) of the will of a woman he never met. His fellow liquidators are his friend and neighbour Myrna and a young builder, Benedict, from Montreal. Neither of them, they say, knew the deceased either.
They accept the challenge and then decamp to Gamache’s home village of Three Pines (including Benedict, who is unable to return to Montreal because of the weather) and then begin to piece together the story of the deceased with their friends and neighbours.
Gamache is surrounded by a loving family, a cast of engagingly eccentric friends in Three Pines and the vividly rendered weather. All this gives it something of the feel of a cosy mystery. (There is, eventually, a murder.) There’s something comforting in reading about the beautiful but lethal cold of Quebec while safely tucked up in the warmth.
However, as the book went on I felt less engaged with it. There’s a subplot about a consignment of drugs and Penny’s portrayal of Montreal street culture and opioid abuse felt rather less convincing than that of the cafes and bookshops of Three Pines.
Even though I’ve previously written about preferring character-driven stories to a surfeit of procedure, I felt that in this book there perhaps wasn’t enough, and that the criminals had left a number of rather convenient clues.
Gamache is currently suspended from his police role (for reasons that are linked to a previous case which presumably is covered in an earlier novel) but his suspension is about as plausible as Rebus’ retirement. He is in the thick of everything, interviewing witnesses, chasing leads internationally, ordering around his subordinates.
As the book progresses, Gamache is shown to exert a tremendous influence over everyone around him, professionally and personally, often without their knowledge. He is like a god in their small universe. Whether you find his interventions charming and generous or controlling and a bit creepy is perhaps a matter of temperament.
The story around the unusual will is entertaining enough and the plot wraps up nicely. I enjoyed the setting and the warmth of the Three Pines friendships in Kingdom of the Blind but I’m not sure I’d want to invest more time in the series.
I received a copy of Kingdom of the Blind from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Kingdom of the Blind on Goodreads
I’ve only read the first three of Penny’s mysteries but my impression is that they are intended to be read in order. However, I also am not convinced you’d find any more of a match with the first volume, which is even more character-driven than the next two I read. Overall, I feel it’s all about Gamache and Three Pines, not so much about any of the crimes in particular, and perhaps that’s just not your cuppa…
I think you might be right!
This was almost certainly not the right book to start with, as even I, a devoted fan of Gamache, thought it was a bit too far and repetitive. I’d recommend some earlier ones, even ones without a Three Pines setting, but the crime is often in second place to the psychology.
Thanks, I might see if I can pick one up from the library (not sure I’d want to invest hard cash!).