A Fatal Grace, Part 1

Introduction

I started working with Louise in October 2006, after the editor who had bought her first three books left Minotaur for another company. At the time, only Still Life had been published. A Fatal Grace was in bound galleys, and The Cruelest Month was a completed manuscript in search of a title.

Since I needed to read three books in a row, it was lucky that I loved them from the start. Although Louise had me from the acknowledgments at the beginning of Still Life, there came a scene in A Fatal Grace that gave me chills in a way that only the very best manuscripts ever have. (I describe that scene in the recap below.) I even remember where I was when I read it. In those days I had an hour-long commute on the train. I know that I started reading the galleys on the train on a Tuesday night, then continued on Wednesday morning, when we always have our editorial meetings. By the time I got to that meeting, I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing Louise was, except perhaps to ignore everyone else and keep reading more of the story.

When I’m asked what makes her books so great, I usually fall back on a quote from Emily Dickinson: “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” That’s how I feel about Louise’s novels.

I believe I didn’t meet Louise and her husband, Michael, in person until Malice Domestic in Crystal City, VA, in the spring of 2008. By that time, Still Life had won many awards (including the Anthony, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Dilys, and New Blood Dagger) for Best First Novel, but not the Agatha; and we didn’t want to jinx anything by expecting her to win Best Novel for A Fatal Grace. I remember how thrilling it was when she did win—but what I had forgotten, until Louise mentioned it recently, was that the awards banquet happened to fall on my birthday. Now that she reminds me—and how remarkable for her to remember—I know that she and Michael insisted on taking me to lunch on that Saturday, and made more of a fuss about my birthday than they did about her chances of winning the Agatha. They were as warm and brilliant and funny as you might imagine from reading Louise’s books, and it’s been a joy to work with her ever since.

Recap (through Chapter 21)

The first lines of A Fatal Grace foretell the death of the nastiest woman in Three Pines: “Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas gift….” The doomed CC has written a self-help book that prattles about love and enlightenment, even though she is actually like the Snow Queen from the fairytale who pierces everyone’s hearts with ice.

Meanwhile, in “the snow globe that was Three Pines,” CC’s 14-year-old daughter, Crie, has sewn her own chiffon snowflake costume for her school’s Christmas pageant, “to surprise Mommy.” She has been on a diet for a month and is sure her mother will notice soon. Except her mother doesn’t bother to show up.

Clara Morrow and her friend Myrna drive to Montreal, where Clara is dying to see the Christmas windows at Ogilvy’s department store that have enchanted her since childhood. She and her handsome husband, Peter, have been starving artists in Three Pines for years, although his precisely detailed paintings have finally started to sell. No one wants to buy Clara’s wilder depictions of warrior uteruses (!) and melting trees.

Hearing that CC knows important gallery owner Denis Fortin, Clara timidly asks if she would mind showing him her portfolio—which CC disdainfully throws in the trash. “Very annoying,” she says to her lover, photographer Saul Petrov. “Imagine asking me for a favor?” CC has much more important things to do: There’s a sale at Ogilvy’s and she wants to buy a special pair of boots made of baby sealskin with metal claws.

Clara’s joy at the Christmas windows is disrupted by a filthy pile of blankets that turns out to be a beggar throwing up. Disgusted, Clara hastens inside to the book launch for her neighbor, Ruth Zardo, the bitter but brilliant old poet whose friends from Three Pines turn up to support her.

On the escalators at Ogilvy’s, Clara passes CC, who says to the man beside her, “I’m so sorry, Denis, that you think Clara’s art is amateur and banal.” It’s a heart-stopping moment. Devastated, Clara shuffles out of the store and sees the stinking beggar she’d ignored on the way in. Impulsively, Clara gives a package of food she’s just bought to the bag lady, who grasps her wrist and says, “I have always loved your art, Clara.” Whoa. This was the moment when I started to feel as if the top of my head was being taken off.

A few days later it is Christmas Eve in Three Pines, with shortbread stars (Louise’s books always make me hungry) and carolers and a midnight service at St. Thomas’s church, where a child starts to sing with angelic purity. The singer is CC’s daughter, wearing a grotesque pink sundress but with bliss on her face. After the service, the whole village can hear CC berating Crie as a “stupid, stupid girl. You humiliated me. They were laughing at you, you know.” CC’s gutless father barely utters a protest.

When Saul turns up at the Bistro on Christmas, Myrna invites him to the community breakfast and curling match on the following day. It’s a perfect setting for the last job Saul intends to do for CC, who wants pictures of herself “frolicking among the natives at Christmas. If possible he had to get shots of the locals looking at CC with wonder and affection.” A pretty tall order.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté and his wife, Reine-Marie, make their first appearance in the book on the day after Christmas, when they have a tradition of reviewing unsolved cases. “If I was murdered,” says Gamache, “I’d like to think the case wouldn’t just sit unsolved. Someone would make an extra effort.” (I love this man.) Reine-Marie notices that one of the cases is new: There was a bag lady who had hung out at the bus station for years—but was strangled outside of Ogilvy’s department store on the day Clara saw her there. Astoundingly, a copy of Ruth’s new book, signed “You stink, love Ruth,” was found with the body.

Then the phone rings, and the duty officer for Three Pines tells Gamache there has been a murder. So much for a quiet Boxing Day. Within minutes Gamache and his second-in-command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, are on their way to Three Pines, to investigate the very odd death of CC de Poitiers.

CC’s murder seems impossible: She was electrocuted at the curling match, in the middle of a frozen lake in front of dozens of witnesses. After Gamache gathers his team in the old railway station, Beauvoir recaps the only way CC’s murder could have worked: “A: she had to be standing in water; B: she had to have taken off her gloves; C: she had to touch something electrified; and D: she had to be wearing metal on the bottom of her boots.” Sure, nobody liked CC, but who hated her enough—and had the expertise—to pull off something like that?

Then a new team member arrives unexpectedly: Agent Yvette Nichol—”the rancid, wretched, petty little woman who’d almost ruined their last case”—apparently sent by the Superintendent of the Sûreté. Gamache is furious to see her, and knows that his enemies at Headquarters are still working against him.

With or without the unwelcome Nichol, the team has much to investigate: Where is Saul and what photos might he have taken of the curling match? Why does the coroner find excess niacin in CC’s body? Can it be possibly be coincidence that CC’s book, Be Calm, has the same name as the meditation center Bea Mayer, known as Mother, runs in Three Pines? After Gamache admires The Three Graces, Clara’s painting of Mother and the two other elderly women who are her best friends in Three Pines, she tells him about her poisonous encounter with CC at Ogilvy’s—and he quietly adds Clara’s name to the long list of suspects.

Favorite Quote

Gamache says to Clara, “When someone stabs you it’s not your fault that you feel pain.”

Discussion Questions

1. If the village of Three Pines truly existed, would you want to live there? Why or why not? How does Christmas bring out the best or the worst in any of the villagers?

2. Who is your favorite character in the book so far?

3. In Louise’s books I am always stopping to admire wonderful images or jokes or observations (or descriptions of food!). Were there any lines that particularly struck you in Part I?

4. What do you think of Ruth’s idea that “most people, while claiming to hate authority, actually yearned for someone to take charge”?

5. Gamache tells Lemieux, “All the mistakes I’ve made have been because I’ve assumed something and then acted as though it was fact.” Have you ever made important assumptions that turned out not to be true?

6. What interests you most about the two murder victims, CC and the bag lady known only as Elle, and the way Gamache conducts his investigation?

Hope DellonHope Dellon's first job in publishing was as an assistant to Joan Kahn, the legendary mystery editor whose authors included Dorothy L. Sayers, Dick Francis, Patricia Highsmith, and Tony Hillerman. In 1975 Hope joined St. Martin's Press, and is now an executive editor at both St. Martin's and Minotaur Books. She has been editing Louise Penny since 2006. She also tweets about books and authors and anything else that interests her at @hopedellon.

Discussion on “A Fatal Grace, Part 1

  1. brenda says:

    I’ll probably not answer all the questions, but to start I would love to live in Three Pines. The joy of the villagers makes all that snow worthwhile. (Having spent this winter with snow storm after snow storm it is not my favorite thing at the moment) Having people around who you know you can always count on is important. That seems to be Three Pines they all take care of each other. They understand each others flaws and accept them flaws and all. Not always an easy thing to do.

    Jumping to conclusions only to find out I’m wrong has happened to me many times. As I’ve aged I’ve tried to be less judgmental. Trying to see the whole picture prior to making a decision. Its a difficult thing for me. But as we grow older we learn more don’t we?

    CC and the bag lady are the opposites with respect to how they treat people. CC the hard and callus woman makes sure that Clara hears her negative comments regarding Clara’s art. While the bag lady though a ‘stranger’ to Clara lets her know that her art is appreciated. Words Clara needed at that particular point in time.

  2. Ann kramer. says:

    I. Would move to Three Pines in a New York minute, even with all the murders. I think Myrna is my favorite character at this point. I understood her need to get away, out of the rat race, the sense of being “lost” when she found the village and herself. (Guess this is #1 and #2)

    3. The food kills me! It seems I always want something to eat — or drink when I’ reading Louise!

    4. Agree with Ruth–most people want “it” to be someone else’s fault. I fear this is our current problem: refusal to take responsibility for self.

    5. Assumptions are always dangerous.

    6. I think the patience and kindness, along with his trust in his “gut”, made more of n impression on me than the murder.

    • brenda says:

      Ann… I wonder about all that food! I would be as big as a house if I ate all that food. It does all sound wonderful and makes me also want to eat something amazing.

    • KB says:

      I don’t know whether I would want to live in Three Pines full time. While I love the setting, the characters, the Bistro and the Bookstore, I have the feeling that there might be too much time for contemplation and quiet. I would have a difficult transition and might find myself pacing around in my new home, wondering what to do with all the “spare” time. On the other hand, it would probably mean that I could get back in touch with more creative and spiritual interests. Once my kids have reached adulthood and I’ve retired, though….

      • Wendy McFarlane says:

        I would absolutely love to live in Three Pines given the chance! I live in a tiny village in the highlands of Scotland which s a very similar setting to that of this imagined village. Snow is a big part of our year and I cannot imagine having a winter which isn’t white. I love the whole feeling of living in a tiny community andwould have no trouble at all settling in Three Pines for the company, bookstore and bistro, throwing myself into all the community activities. I wounder has Louise lived herself in such a closed but beautiful community and is this why she can involve her readers so well capturing the atmosphere and life and indeed the quite remoteness of life in the wild.

  3. Mary Ogletree says:

    In response to the questions:

    1) No, as much as I love the fictional Three Pines, I wouldn’t want to live there. Born and bred in the deep South, I can barely take the winters here in Pennsylvania where I live now! And as a violinist and college professor, I don’t think I’d find work there. I’d love to visit, though!

    2) Gamache, always Gamache!

    3) Every time I re-read these books I find new lines, jokes or descriptions which leap out at me. Of course, since I am at the university, supposedly correcting final exams, I don’t have my copy to quote from at the moment (she says guiltily).

    4) Ruth is right…at least in my little part of the world, most people are eagerly looking for someone to be in charge. But keep in mind that I work with college students, and in several professional orchestras, both populations which really NEED someone to be in charge!

    5) Oh, yes…far too many times. As I get older it becomes easier to remember not to make assumptions till the facts are clear, but is still plenty of room for improvement!

    6) This was my least favorite book of the series until “The Beautiful Mystery” came along (HOW could Jean Guy….well, never mind, that’s for another discussion). CC was so awful, treated everyone so badly, was so blind about her own faults that I could barely stand to read about her. Elle was a mystery, and a sorrow. Gamache is equally concerned with both murders, and with both murder victims. That’s why he will always be my favorite character in this series. In fact, the characters are the reason I love these books…ordinary mysteries interest me very little, but give me an interesting set of characters, a vivid world in which they interact, and I’m THERE, reading till 2 a.m. again even though I have to get up at 7 to teach.

  4. Annamarie DeCarlo says:

    What do you mean, “If Three Pines existed?” Hell-O? Of course it does! I was there just yesterday, enjoying a cafe au lait and a chocolate croissant at the Bistro. Being at the Bistro is about the only way I could deal with the snow.

    After Gamache (and, who wouldn’t want to meet him?) I would like to meet Jean-Guy and Myrna. Jean-Guy knows he has work to do on himself, and I like that about him. Myrna, well, we’re still learning a lot about her, and I look forward to her development. She is a calming presence, somehow.

    I don’t have the book handy for reference, but I found myself laughing out loud several times during A Fatal Grace (and Still Life) almost as though Louise were speaking directly to ME, and that we were laughing together. This makes my husband wonder ….

    A description of lunch in Still Life (I read and listened to the book) made me seek out La Madeleine driving to a meeting two weeks ago. Nothing but a baguette and brie would do the trick.

    Assumptions? For the first half of my life, I probably made an ass out of myself a million times by assuming. In the second half, I have learned to keep space in my mind for the possibility that I am wrong.

    The realization that both daughters killed their mothers was a tragic moment. Such waste, such loss. CC evoked no sympathy at all in me. She was a mean individual, unable to rebound from how she was raised, and she squandered her talents. Elle was sad and tragic, without the skills her daughter had to make her way in the world. Gamache’s methodical approach, his patience, and his ability to recognize, Oh No, I may have this wrong, made me cheer him on.

    My favorite quote in the book: Elle’s comment, “I’ve always loved your paintings, Clara.” It sets the stage for everything.

    • FionaTheBrit says:

      Well I hope no one reads this post before they have finished the book, rather a plot spoiler in there.

      I was really shocked that not a single adult stuck up for Crie in the face of her mother’s attack after the church service. The villagers have been held up to have moral values, especially Myrna and Clara – and suddenly they abandon the child. They all even know how horrid the mother is – so really the outburst should not have been a shock.

      Shame on them.

      • Phyllis Ross says:

        Yes, but how many times have we not said anything because we didn’t want to start a ruckus. Emily felt terrible guilt for not speaking up for Crie and latter paid a much bigger price when she did try to help.

        • Nancy N. says:

          You might confront such a mother (******?), but is she not looking for attention to begin with, to berate her child in such a public way? Once I told the child, “Hold on. It won’t last forever,” but you don’t always get the chance. If the mother were caught short, would she just not attack the child worse, blame her? It is a sickening situation. Child Protection itself would be at a loss, because there are no visible bruises. Are we all powerless in the presence of evil? I’d like to know, because I had a mother like that. Therapists don’t know how to deal with it, in my experience. The best answer I got was – The best revenge is a good life. But the damage is hard to escape.

          • Jill collins says:

            As you stated, Child Protective Services would not have been able to do anything to help Crie. Emotional abuse is as bad as physical and sexual abuse; and yet, there is not much done about it. Even though (I was a teacher) I’ve intervened several times, sometimes it comes as such a shock it leaves one speechless and unable to act. I, too, was shocked by none of the villagers saying anything. I think there is a lesson to be learned in this book about the dangers of emotional child abuse. I’m glad Louise touched on it.

          • FionaTheBrit says:

            Gamache gets it right I think, when he is counselling Yvette – ‘bury your dead.’ He is referring to her past and the anguish it is causing her, the torment, the destruction of her life. However it is easy to say and hard to do, all we can try is to walk around our pasts (our dead) and look for the good in the moment.

            The books have a wonderful insight into hurt people, both the victims and the abusers. I find this very comforting, it is soothing to read and understand the torment that one has suffered is not unique to me and that someone else knows how destructive it is.

            I guess from Ms. Penny’s description of her own past loneliness, she has experienced destructive forces at work in her life. The books are very helpful to me in this regard and I find I am reading them and making notes working on my own issues. Does anyone know “The Artists Way?” In my opinion a very helpful self help book to rebuild ones inner confidence.

            Love the book. I like the image of “God” as something that is right for me. Not the tired old image and hangups of the Church. It seems to me that the three Graces and akin to the bibles telling of Jesus sacrifice for the benefit of another. While a personal religion is a thread in the stories it is a religion that one may define for oneself. This is so empowering and makes the idea of a “God” rather more palatable for me.

      • Kim Bodnarchuk says:

        I agree 100% with Fiona. Shame on the villagers for not stepping in and saying anything. Even if they didn’t have the courage or were too shocked to interrupt her mother’s tirade, after she stormed off (with metal claws clicking), they could have stepped forward and told Crie that she sang like an angel and that she had given them joy and touched their hearts.

        In response to the question about who I “like” the most, Clara, Ruth, and Myrna resonate most (along with Gamache, of course). I find Ruth and Myrna intruiging. And I find Cee Cee and her family intriguing. They are all broken, but show it differently. Cee Cee applies brittle, sparkly glue to hold the pieces together and whenever there is any stress, the ugliness spews out of the cracks. (Unfortunately, not much stress is needed and she perceives it everywhere.) And although Cee Cee was the victim, she murdered every member of her family – Crie and Richard slowly, with repeated barbs and cuts until they became frightened of their own shadow and incapable of independent thought (Richard) or totally shut down and living in an internal fantasy world. Poor Crie still hoped that her mother would come to the Christmas concert. Louise does an impressive job of depicting this family and making us wonder who or what damaged Cee Cee to such an extent that she inflicts such pain on her family.

        • FionaTheBrit says:

          Do you think that CC was only able to understand her mother’s behaviour as a criticism of CC? CC did not understand how damaged her mother (Eleanor) was. CC was as in awe and in love with the glory of her mother as Eleanor’s friends were. CC did not realise how ill “L” was. How sad that no friends or bystanders were not able to intervene and help CC as a child.

  5. Meg R says:

    Dear Fellow Responders and Paul Hochman, King of Tech Solutions!,

    Is it possible to set up these posting response pages by subject?
    * Q#i; – Living in Three Pines
    * Q # 2 – Favorite Character
    * Q#3 – Favorite Line, Image, Jokes
    * Q#4 – Someone Else in Charge
    * Q#5 – Acting on Assumptions
    * Q#6 – Two Victims: CC & Elle
    * Responders’ Questions for Clarification
    * Responders Other Observations

    Paul, Could these be set up in a colored font – Like “Leave a Reply” – or a box like “Post Comment” below?
    I’ve found it difficult to read through a series of postings where we’ve each responded to all six questions and to remember who said what – let alone what was said about a particular issue. As I read through these lists, I may want to respond to one of the entries, but then forget about it by the time I’ve gotten to all of the others. If we could organize response placements, it might be easier to deepen discussion and focus it a little better at times? Does this make any sense? Is it even possible, Paul??

    • Terry says:

      I find I’m better off to respond to replies as I go along. The responses seem very random at times, but I so enjoy all the discussion and think the books are even richer because of the book club. Embrace the randomness! Be calm.

    • Linda Maday says:

      I’m afraid if everything were so organized, the discussion would be very rote. I love the randomness that leads to some great aha moments for me.

      One option that might help those that are having difficulty might be a simple search function.

      • Meg R says:

        Terry, Karen & Linda,
        I really appreciate your feedback. Guess I’m just used to book clubs (on-line or with live people) that discuss issues in a more focused manner than the shot-gun type scatter of this site. Yeah, I am being selfish because there are things that I dearly would like to discuss with everyone to get other takes on things, but feel frustrated with limits of current set-up. How ’bout a compromise?

        If you’re going to do a response to a question, a posting or a specific issue – what if we do a subject TITLE in caps at the beginning of a post as I’ve done with recent entries? That would enable us to 1. find topics of interest and 2. pay a little more focused attention to what we each have to offer. I really find it hard to read thru one block of assorted answers to Q’s 1 to 6 — one after another and keep straight who said what about what subject! Age creeping in?

        I’ve found Louise Penny’s novels to be exceptionally of a higher calibre than most ‘mystery stories’ and am rediscovering and unearthing many, many more riches in them as I’ve begun my second reading of them. I’d just like to see discussions as rich and in depth as what she’s provided to us, her readers. Does this make any sense?

        Plus, there are some interesting Q’s over on the top right of the page under the Reader’s Guide bar too!

  6. Meg R says:

    AN EARLY OBSERVATION:
    Yes, I’ve read this before – but in excited rush to read the entire series after I was given book # 5 or 7. I’m finding second reads to be so much richer since I’m carting in prior knowledge of who and what Mrs. Penny’s characters are!
    Know what struck me in the first 20 or so pages of “Fatal Grace” this time? As soon as I read about CC and learned that she bought the Hadley house from Yolande – I thought “Okay, here we go again! CC has Yolande’s cruelty, ugliness of spirit and self- absorption – but on an overloaded steroid level! Nothing so far (thru chapter 22) has change this opinion for me so far.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Even on my reread I was surprised at the shear brutality of CC. It’s awful to be unkind to someone in retaliation, but CC was horrible for no obvious reason. What earthly reason to treat Clara so badly?

      • FionaTheBrit says:

        …but at least Clara was an adult not and innocent child. Why do some people not learn from their own experiences and try to make improvements so that their children have a better experience.

        • Linda Maday says:

          This is such an old truth. Ell may have been innately kind, but she was mentally ill and a terrible mother. Neglect is different from abuse mostly by degree. We can all chose to be different, but if we as children aren’t given the right tools by our parents, our choices become limited. In CCs case, I believe she must have mental problems of her own. She gave her daughter candy and ridicule and no tools to cope with life. Sometimes the sins of the mothers really are visited on the heads of the children even down to the third generation.

          Sometimes people intervene but far too often, like our beloved friends in Three Pines, we may be shocked but for reasons beyond our own understanding we don’t interrupt our blessed eves. Not even for the little girl with the perfect voice of Silent Night.

          • Linda Maday says:

            I’m sorry. I think I left a spoiler here and I didn’t mean to do so.

          • Laura Kay says:

            Linda, I agree completely. Abuse is on a spectrum and there are many ways to abuse. A devastating comment to me would likely roll right off the next person’s back. The cruelty is when the person delivering the blow knows just where to strike. It’s not a simple thing to really be different than what we were taught by example as children. Many abusers believe in their heart of hearts that they have done nothing wrong.

  7. Yes, Three Pines sounds ideal. I’d have a permanent order for café au lait at the Bistro, a close relationship with Myrna, because I would frequent the bookstore and I would get to as many of the people as would want to be friendly. Clara, I would love to have many long discussion. Ruth, as always, has a spot on look at life. I find I am rediscovering the humor in her writing. It zings along, almost unnoticed. I would never have remembered it if I had not started rereading her books. Truly, my favorite character is Clara. Rarely do we meet such “real people” in fiction.

  8. Julie says:

    1. I wish I COULD live in Three Pines, but I’m afraid the cold would drive me away. I used to live in Winnipeg! Before that, Thompson, Manitoba (halfway to the Arctic Circle). I still have the feeling, when awakening on a sunny January morning, that it will be minus 40 degrees outside, and even though my car has been plugged in forever, it will still not start easily in this! Then I remember, I’ve moved to Seattle, where it’s very unlikely that you will have sun on a January morning, but that doesn’t bother me, hahaha. I don’t own a pair of snow boots or a heavy coat, and I’m just fine. (not FINE, fine…) But the sense of community is so lovely, and that Bistro calls to me – I’d love to summer there, I think! One of these days, I will have to buy some licorice pipes…

    2. Well, Gamache of course, is my favorite in all the books. Otherwise, I think it must be Clara, who had such fun spending the little bit of money she has now… And I so love that the she has really “seen” Elle. I also love Reine-Marie, for insisting that they look into Elle’s murder, even though it had immediately been put in the unsolved pile, as though no-one could bother about it.

    3. It’s always the wistful, difficult lines that stop me in Louise’s books. Here’s what did it for me in A Fatal Grace: “They’d evaded the monster. Instead, it had devoured a frightened child.” Crie’s awful put-downs from her mother, and everyone’s avoiding their eyes and ears almost hurt to read. It’s so honest and human – it’s what you would really do and then let it fester for days afterwards that you’d said nothing, done nothing. Louise has hit that nerve perfectly!

    4. I’m just not sure about that, Ruth. While I think that most could BENEFIT from someone taking charge, I think most of us would rankle at it. (or am I projecting my feelings onto everyone else again?)

    5. My life has been spent trying to figure out how to stop making those assumptions, hahaha. I, like many of the others, have gotten a bit better about avoiding these pitfalls, as I’ve aged, but they still happen often enough to trouble me. I love the way Gamache really sees what’s fact and what’s only wishful thinking…

    6. Very little about CC interests me, I must admit. But in a way – both CC and Elle are distasteful people (in their own ways), and yet, Gamache does not only give his gifts to those worthy of them. He says he “would want someone to solve his murder” – while discussing the cold cases with his peer at the Montreal Police Department. He gives this benefit to everyone – no matter who they were, no matter whether they were popular, or good, or kind. At the very end, everyone deserves this. He is such an elegant man inside and out.

    • Karen Gast says:

      If you’re projecting feelings, you’ve hit mine. I more often want to be in charge than to have someone else take charge, but that’s especially true in personal matters.

      • Mary Gregg says:

        Have to agree with wanting to be the one more in charge than charged. Perhaps in a chaotic emergency situation most of us look around for a leader……before stepping up and taking control.
        I would never ever mind the brutal cold in Three Pines. It is almost another character throughout the books, isn’t it? The cold forcing people inside the bistro, inside each others homes to be warm and reassured of community comfort.
        I have a tough time picking out a favorite character. I would probably be uncomfortable spending much time with Jean Guy although I’m old enough to want to give him a hug and a teeth-rattling shake. I would hope that, living in Three Pines, I would settle in with the group and become confidantes with most. Even Ruth. Especially Ruth.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Julie, I live in the state of Washington as well. Though on the not so evergreen side. You do have sun sometimes in January. When you do, it’s glorious. You also have wonderful tall evergreens, rhododendrons, camellias, and emerald throated hummingbirds in the spring. The tall tall grandfather grove near Mt Ranier is the perfect place to relax and ponder the safe haven of Three Pines. In fact, when I read these books my mind goes back to some of the remote small towns of Washington like Morton or the recently devastated Oso. When we watched the responders to the Oso tragedy I was reminded of the caring and concern of the neighbors that Louise describes so beautifully.

  9. Meg R says:

    Q#1 – THREE PINES:
    Would I want to live there? Mary O & Brenda, you are gals after my own heart! This past winter has been my idea of Hell – not devils with pitchforks and constant flames! Detest cold and snow and interminable need to shovel that white stuff!
    What does appeal to me about Three Pines is the real sense of community and fellowship there. This motley crew of folks are accepted for the most part for whom they are – warts, haloes, devil horns, sweet natures and all. Love the idea of neighborhood gathering place in Ollie’s bistro with roaring fire, drinks and good conversation and teasing banter.

    Although I am an eclectic and voracious reader, I would miss having a movie theater and live theater & concert productions regularly. TV wouldn’t be a noticeable loss, but performances via film or live stage ones would be for me.
    Don’t think I’d like having to drive in the dark and snow from Montreal back to Three Pines if I had to go into the city to see something. I’m assuming that winter lasts even a bit longer in Three Pines than it does here in Pennsylvania! Bring on the sunshine, blue skies and warmer temps.

    • brenda says:

      Meg.. I’m up at 4 and out by 530 every morning. I think if I lived in Three Pines I might feel differently about snow as I wouldn’t HAVE to drive to work. Everyone’s work is right there . A nice thought at least.

      • Meg R says:

        Brenda, I did that same schedule for 30 some years too & even though retired now, still have to clear sidewalks for postal carriers and pedestrians and to dig out car to get anywhere! I’ve found that either working or being retired that snow and cold are still something I could wish away! :~D Maybe in my next life, I’ll come back in warmer climes!

        • brenda says:

          LOL Meg… I’ve thought the same thing. Because when the time comes to retire, I know I’ll still be here on Long Island with my family. But warmth would be nice

          • Laura Kay says:

            Brenda and Meg R. – I have just moved to central Maine (not all that far from the eastern townships) from Phoenix, AZ. Yes, the warmth is wonderful and, as my grandfather used to say, you don’t have to shovel heat. But the smog, the crowded city, and long commutes are all trade-offs. My parents are still in AZ – so I expect I will have to make a winter trip. Maybe I’ll stay a month or two! : )

  10. Katherine Butler says:

    Even though Armand and Jean Guy and Ruth will always remain my favorite triumvirate of the entire Gamache series, in the beginning of A Fatal Grace, Crie is the character who captures my heart. We first see her in Chapter Two as she dons the snowflake costume she proudly made for herself and thinks about how beautiful she will be dressed in it with all the glitter she embellished it with and looks forward to singing in the Christmas pageant, and finally she has the thought that her mother will be there to see her and finally, really believe her overweight daughter to be a beautiful young girl. We know, instinctively from having seen what little of her characteristics are revealed in the first chapter, that CC de Poitiers will think no such thing. She will visit upon her daughter all the wrath that she is capable of bringing, and we are correct when later we witness her berating Crie for singing during the church service in Three Pines, even though the congregation believed her to be an angel come down from Heaven to carol. Finally, after her mother is killed, she sits catatonic in the twice-doomed old Hadley house with a father who has no idea how to comfort her. I want to reach into the story and enfold her in my arms in a protective embrace so that nothing bad ever happens to her again.

    • Lizzy says:

      exactly how I felt!!

    • Margaret Howland says:

      Haven’t we all, at some time in our lives, experienced some version of Crie’s feelings? That awful stage — 13 or 14? — when we KNOW we are ugly and fat, that all of our “accomplishments” are phony, that no one will ever admire us, that there is no one we can tell of our feelings as they are so shameful… Oh I just ached for her, and it has been 60 years since I was that age. Louise captured the feelings perfectly.
      I have a lot more trouble relating to CC — yes, something terrible has to have caused her to become so evil (as Peter has locked down his emotions). But is there ever any excuse for such deliberate viciousness to a child? ANY child? Any person, for that matter? I think not. We do enough damage with casual thoughtlessness.

  11. Diana Schafer says:

    I love reading the comments, but find I can’t participate. All the books are somehow meshed in my mind and I think any comments could spoil their enjoyment for new readers.

    • Annamarie DeCarlo says:

      Oh, dear. I’m a new reader, two-weeks old, into book 3. Going from one mystery to the next is blending a bit, but I love it!

    • Julie says:

      I kind of think of it all as one big story anyway, because we are given such a wonderful long time to really get to know the characters and come to love them. I really am enjoying reading the series again and looking at each book with fresh eyes…

  12. Penny Schmitt says:

    “I have always loved your art, Clara” truly is a breath-stopping moment.

    And what are we to make of it?

    My take, not being a believer in those near-death trips actually being a round trip ticket to heaven, and so forth, is that Clara is deeply gifted with intuition. This is partly because she isn’t very gifted with self confidence. Inside of herself, she darned well knows how great her art is, because she is passionately impelled to make it, and she also makes it ‘intuitively’ and perhaps from the unconscious, but not because it is not a product of mind. She identifies with Elle the outcast and despised, and yet she also hears Elle speak with the voice of her own inner ‘Great Teacher.’ Clara is truly a good person, because she can love her own ‘unworthiness’ in other people who appear to be unworthy. She takes a lot of abuse for this, but she keeps bouncing back. CLARA is the miracle.

    This leads me to wonder, what kind of relationship to intuition / logic / judgement / sensation / feeling and so forth can we see in the other Three Pines and Surete characters? Gabri seems to be a mass of feeling and sensation. Olivier is still a mystery as yet unrevealed. Jean Guy has, in the Jungian sense, some pretty undifferentiated sensation stuff going on under there, a lot of completely denied emotions including love AND anger. Wow, Louise Penny keeps adding to our knowledge of him brush stroke by brush stroke. And so forth.

    Another ‘breath stopping moment’ comes for me when Gamache looks out into the night and sees the darkness slowly coalesce, deepen, and assume the shape of the old Hadley house. This house appears to be some sort of focus of evil or ill will. How do other readers feel about this characterization of a place being kind of the other side of the coin of Three Pines? The ‘heart of darkness’ of this magical community.

    What do other people think? And by the way, if participation in the re-read seems to be dropping off, could it be because the discussion questions are so vague and un-provocative? I know they are meant to be inclusive and open ended, but really!!!
    Challenge me a little!!!

    • Johanna Genge says:

      I love this contrast you make between idyllic Three Pines and the Hadley house. This had not occurred to me before this. Thanks.

    • Terry says:

      Before I started the rereads my memory of the Hadley House from these early books was much more an evil character than I find it so far in the reread. This time around the house just seems sad and dreary. CC hasn’t been here long enough to engrave her nastiness and Ben (in Still Life) had just fabricated the nastiness that was really a projection of his own twisted self.

    • Patricia Greiss says:

      I love what you said about Jean-Guy, and how Louise is adding to our knowledge of him brushstroke by brushstroke. He is my favorite character, because there is always something else you want to find out about him. I reread the whole series with that goal, and I still have more questions that I want answered in future books.

      • Lorna Russell says:

        Hi Patricia!
        Your comments about Jean-Guy struck a chord with me. I believe we want to learn more and more because Louise is having us fall in love with this “loosely wrapped but tightly wound” and, in spite of what he would want you to believe about him, terribly vulnerable soul. This is a cruel but necessary ploy on her part because of what the Fates have
        in store for our ‘gars’ from the wrong side of the tracks.

    • Linda Maday says:

      When something horrible happens in a particular place, the location often seems to take on the essence of the experience. The Hadley house was an ominous presence throughout the book. I can remember as a child being afraid of an old trailer in town that seemed haunted and dark and foreboding. Even now I shiver at the thought of it.

    • Linda says:

      How about assumptions in connection with the Hadley house? Everybody assumed what Ben said was so. It wasn’t. Actually a lovely woman lived there. Everybody is assuming it’s evil. They are projecting their assumptions onto the house.

      • Meg R says:

        HADLEY HOUSE vs VILLAGE: Yes, I think Penny clearly establishes the dark/light imagery between the two setting as many of you point out. But, didn’t we primarily see that through Peter’s eyes (via Ben) in “Still Life” — and Armand’s in this book as he recalls ending of the first book when he and JeanGuy were injured in dark basement trying to rescue Clara. Like so many images – this is a recurring motif through the series – and another layer to add to the repeated images of light and dark in so many various forms – i.e. literal darkness & illumination, dark and lightness of characters souls, childhood experiences, end of daylight->sunset darkness, etc. etc. etc. Even picked up in the cited verse snippet from Leonard Cohen song – which becomes title of a later book!

      • Linda Maday says:

        That really is true. And if a “cleansing” takes place, likely it’s the memories of the participants that are readjusted, allowing the people and the houses to begin to move forward again.

      • Penny Schmitt says:

        This remark about assumptions with respect to the Hadley house is right on!

  13. brenda says:

    Please don’t post comments about things further in the book than this part of the discussion calls for– I think there probably are some who are not rereading but reading for the first time. Lets not spoil it for them.

  14. Jane Fricker says:

    First of all, thank you, Hope, for that excellent introduction to A Fatal Grace. This book will always have a special place in my heart, as it’s the first book by Louise Penny I read.
    1. Would I want to live in Three Pines? While I love the descriptions of this magical place that is akin to Brigadoon, I’m in agreement with Mary Ogletree, Julie, and Meg R. who all think that the winters would be too harsh there. I’m so used to the warm climes in the Southwestern US now that I think the only way I’d really enjoy the environment of Three Pines would be in the summer(Hey, it would HAVE to be cooler than Phoenix, right???)
    2. Oh, this is so hard. Of course, I love Gamache, but he doesn’t make an appearance in the first few chapters of the book. I think for me, it’s a tie between Myrna and Clara. I just adore the way Louise Penny tells how Myrna discovered Three Pines: ” It had croissants and cafe au lait. It had steak frites and the New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B&B, a general store . It had peace and stillness and laughter. It had great joy, and great sadness and the ability to accept both and be content. It had companionship and kindness. And it had an empty store with a loft above. Waiting. For her.” Thus in a few words, Penny has summed up for us the physical and spiritual aspects of Three Pines. Most important from Myrna’s POV, though, is that there is space for her. There really is a sense for her that this is where she’s meant to be, and she has the courage to accept that. “In just over an hour Myrna had gone from a world of complaint to a world of contentment.” I just love that! Contrast her view of Three Pines with that of C.C. Poitiers who privately thought of Three Pines as “the crummy little village,” and it’s clear which one of those characters has spiritual insight, and which one does not. Clara I love because of her inherent optimism, AND her resilience. True, she is terribly hurt by the cutting remark made by C.C., and gives herself over to sobbing as her worst fears are realized. But then she notices none of the shoppers has offered to help her, “Just as, Clara realized, she hadn’t helped the vagrant outside.” When she goes to try to help the person, she gets a shock when the person grabs her and says, ” I have always loved your art, Clara.” Clara then believes that she’d met God. She bounces back from desolation to jubilation, saying about the comment she’d overheard, ” Amateurish and banal , he’d called it. Doesn’t matter. God likes my work.” Later on, while they’re both still in Myrna’s car, Myrna “knew what Clara was seeing… Clara was seeing peace.” I think Clara is the me I’d like to be–that if I’d heard someone saying something horribly cruel about the quality of my work, I’d be able, like Clara, to overcome that not let it cripple me emotionally.

    • Hope says:

      Thank you so much, Jane. I really do love this book and feel it adds wondrous depth and complexity to the already wonderful STILL LIFE.

      And I love what you say about Clara’s inherent optimism and resilience, including her faith that the famous art dealer “doesn’t matter [because] God likes my work.”

    • Alison says:

      Thank you, Jane, for writing my thoughts so eloquently! I, too, connected with Myrna’s thoughts about Three Pines and finding space for herself. I love that passage. There are times that I can certainly imagine living in Three Pines- as a licensed independent clinical social worker, there are many times over the years I’ve contemplated quitting my practice and opening up a bookstore.

      I so appreciate the depths of each of the characters of the series and could be quite content in the mystical village, with Montreal so close. The warmth of the village and the villagers (many of them, anyhow) would suit.

      I have too many favorite characters: it’s one of the best qualities of Louise’s books. I adore Armand’s integrity, fortitude, and self-reflection; Clara’s sense of loyalty and increased confidence; Jean-Guy’s exploration of sense of self; Ruth’s ability to write extraordinary poetry and verbally be so caustic; and Myrna’s compassion and stability.

  15. Karen I Ford says:

    This was a very tough book to read. I immediately hated CC and was so happy to see her demise but, like Katherine, I wanted to wrap Crie in my arms and whisk her away from all of the mess, including her totally inept father!
    Ella’s comment to Clara, just when she needed a positive in her life, really grabbed me. I immediately wanted to know her story and how she fit into the lives of the people of Three Pines. It was also painful to learn of her death. Where did she fit into this murky soup of murder and secrets.
    Would I like to live in Three Pines — absolutely. I want to walk over to the bistro for my morning cafe au lait and a pain a chocolate or a bowl of pea soup and a crusty roll for my lunch. To haunt the book store and the antique shop, to wander the lanes, and to have little chats with everyone, and to curl up with a book in front of the inviting fire at the bistro with a glass of mulled wine — that is what living in Three Pines would be like for me. Even the little church sounds like the one I went to in Ontario when we were kids.
    The Hadley House brought back memories and I wondered if the house was hexed.
    Jean-Guy is always so compacted — not knowing whether to like him or want to kick him in the shins! Gamache treats him like a son, but is that a misplaced honor? Isabelle, on the other hand, has her world in order — is it because she has a family and this is her job, one that she does not allow to control her life.
    There are so many secrets and the return of Yvette is like throwing a sabot into the mix — what exactly is the problem between Gamache and his boss??? How is sending Yvette back screwing up the works?
    Ruth is correct — we need order to survive. As a sociologist, I have spent years observing how we must have both order and ritual in our lives. It isn’t just in the animal world that their are Alpha-Males and Females. We need rules and regulations, no matter how simple to make our everyday life bare-able. Even the most primitive society has rules, often elaborate and convoluted to our eyes.
    Into the chaos of death, one in Montreal and one in Three Pines, Gamache and his team have to unravel them. It is interesting that we learn that Armand and Reine-Marie look at “cold cases” and try to see what is missing or what has been over looked.
    We are all guilty of assuming what appears to be the obvious, only to have it bite us in the tush every time!! We jump to conclusions because we are looking for the easy answer. But life is not full of easy answers. Ms. Penny has the ability to bring up up short when we think we have figured out the answers. She has Gamache and his team looking in every corner and under every rock.
    I really want to know more about Myrna. Why does Peter think that Clara is not as accomplished an artist as he is? Is it because his “manhood” will be compromised? Is he that small a person? Even the grocer has more personality than Peter does!
    And then there is vulnerable Clara. Ruth is almost a “mother-figure” to her. Ruth is the opposite of Clara. Ruth has a real backbone and stands up for herself. Clara is so insecure that it is often painful to hear her voice as I read. I want that backbone of Ruth’s to be absorbed via osmosis to Clara.
    First impressions are often the lasting ones. I use then often and am seldom wrong — I can sense “smarmy-ness” in some people and it is like nails on a chalk board. There is a person in my life now that upon first meeting I knew that we could never be very good friends and she has proved me right more than once.

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