Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions for A GREAT RECKONING

  1. “The worst was coming. But so was the best. The snow angels were coming,” Gamache reflects in the first chapter. Aside from evoking the chill of November, what expectations do these lines raise about the story to come?
  2. What do you think of Gamache’s decision to invite Brébeuf to teach at the academy? What does the invitation, and Brébeuf’s acceptance of it, say about the two men?
  3. In what ways is the map significant to Gamache, the villagers, and the various cadets? What significance does it have for you?
  4. How do you feel about the character of Amelia? Did you see the final words in the book coming, and did they change your view of Gamache or Amelia in any way?
  5. What are the most important things Gamache teaches the cadets? What does he learn from them?
  6. How does the relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir evolve throughout the story? Do they generally behave in the ways you’d predict, or do they sometimes surprise you?
  7. In what ways are the cadets similar to and different from one another? How did Leduc play upon their strengths and weaknesses?
  8. “The innocent are often upset when the world doesn’t live up to their expectations,” Lacoste says of Amelia. Can you think of examples of this in the outside world?
  9. Louise quotes from a poem by Jonathan Swift: “Come hither, all ye empty things,/Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings.” What do you think is meant by the “bubbles raised”? What are the bubbles?
  10. How do you respond to the scene in the chapel in Chapter 39, when Gamache talks to the cadets about what happened with Leduc?
  11. How do the emotions of both jealousy and loyalty affect the characters’ actions? In Chapter 41, what is the meaning of the line, “The friendship. The friendship”?
  12. “Few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review of Bury Your Dead. Did you laugh or cry at any point during A Great Reckoning, and if so, what made you do so?
Printable Version: A Great Reckoning Reading Group Guide [PDF]

Discussion on “Reading Group Guide

  1. Anna says:

    Thank you Paul. Hopefully we will all have lots to say when the shock of today is less raw. There are over 4000 replies to Louise’s post on Facebook. 4000 people wishing love to her and all of Michael’s friends and family. As you referenced in the last question, Louise has a unique ability to combine heartbreak and hope and she did so in her farewell to Michael.

  2. Had a post to # 4 but managed to loose it. Too annoyed to rewrite.

  3. Julie Buck says:

    Barbara – I’ll start that one, and see if you are able to chime in later on…. How do you feel about the character of Amelia? Did you see the final words in the book coming, and did they change your view of Gamache or Amelia in any way?

    I did. I wondered, earlier on, if it was Cri from A Fatal Grace – having rejected the name her mother gave her. I got that idea as she talked or thought some about her father – and it being just her and her father… Later on, of course, it couldn’t be. And a bit later on, SOMETHING made me think she must be the daughter of the man who’d been driving the car that killed his parents. If he went to prison for awhile, she’d have been put into the foster system, which could explain a LOT! Anyway – I did think that this is who she might have been. I don’t think it changes my feelings about either of them.

    I’ve always thought that Gamache is someone who would never blame a child for his or her father’s mistakes, but also that he’s forgiving – he understands how important forgiveness is, to both the person receiving the forgiveness and the one giving it. If there’s anything Gamache seems to understand, it’s the human heart.

    I don’t feel any differently about Amelia, either – she is someone who got “left behind” in life – nobody to care about her or for her, and she’s built up a very tough facade to make sure people couldn’t hurt her. The revelation helps us to understand how she got that way, but it wasn’t necessary to see that she was a good person underneath. One of the main things I really liked about her was that she responded to seeing Isabel on TV and that decided her to apply to the academy. That says so much about her and her innate goodness. I think that Gamache did the exact right thing, bringing her in and also watching over her.

    I think that he gets the “training” part exactly right – he always was looking for the “misfits” for his department – bringing them in, giving them the opportunity to shine, and yet, not just handing everything to them. They had to work at it, had to want to do better. I miss Nichol – and of course, Amelia seemed much the same kind of person. But the difference is that Nichol never seemed to think she needed to listen or learn. Maybe Louise felt she’d brought her along as far as she could go, and Amelia is an object lesson in what the same kind of person, with the same kind of chip on her shoulder, can do with the right attitude.

    • Julie Buck says:

      No – wait – she couldn’t have been born with the accident happened – Gamache was just a kid – so the man had to do his time, then come out of prison, and have a family. So… maybe it was simply that his legacy from that accident was that his life was ruined, too, and he passed that along to Amelia. Sorry about that – don’t know why I hadn’t realized the time differences here.

  4. Anna says:

    Its very easy to get a bit confused after the fact Julie but the way you first described it makes perfect sense too…it didn’t quite happen that way but it could have.
    Does Amelia know what her father did? I don’t remember and it didn’t seem that way at the end?
    My opinion of Amelia did not change based on who her father was. We got to know her as a person before we knew her history. What was interesting was her Father’s comment to Gamache thanking the Inspector for bringing his child home to them. Apart from the synchronicity of Choquet taking Gamache’s family and Armand restoring Choquet’s, it showed that the individual who killed his parents was just a man who loved and feared loss the same as Gamache. His act was horrendous but Choquet was human.
    In his speech to the Cadets at graduation Gamache said: “We are a crowd of faults. But know this. There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know…I need help. Those are the signposts. The cardinal directions.”
    Gamache too is a crowd of faults. His decision to bring Brebeuf to the Academy ended in tragedy. You can’t lecture others on their faults without acknowledging your own humanity. Perhaps Amelia and Choquet are simply a reminder to Gamache that we can come back from the worst of mistakes if we have courage and humility.

    • Charlotte says:

      I also suspected from the beginning who Amelia was. Her father must have been about 47 when she was born? Who is her mother? Where is she?
      I’ve always loved maps. That part was interesting. I thought the map they found may have been the map depicted in pocket of the boy in the window. He was shown with the map and facing a different direction than the others. Facing back home, not into battle? He came back (no one knew) and since his mother had died, his brothers were gone, he disappeared into the wild, leaving behind his stained map.
      Would love to have a copy of the map! Like the maps in Lord of the Rings.
      Love the name chosen for Ruth’s house.

      • Katherine says:

        The description of Amelia’s father is that he is about 10 years younger than Gamache so in his mid- late 40’s. He was a teenager when he killed the Gamaches. Amelia is about 20, so, her father was in his late 20’s when she was born.

        • Jackie says:

          He’s 10 years older than Gamache. He was 19 or so when he killed Gamache’s parents as a drunk driver. I echo what someone said above. Their deaths must have f**ked him up somehow do that his daughter’s childhood was marred in someway by it. Maybe he was a drinker, not around. But regardless, he was touched by what he did, so much so that he named his child after the woman he killed.

  5. Anna says:

    The snow angels were coming. It was the first line I highlighted when I was reading the book. I wish I had written down why at the time, when I entered the book for the first time. What did I expect?
    Snow angels are themselves joyous things. Fun in the snow. Children at play. But Louise gives them a dark twist. A portent of things to come. Angels of snow. Cold. Forbidding perhaps. There was definitely a shiver evoked by that line. All is not what it seems.
    It doesn’t help that the scariest enemies ever of Dr Who were the Weeping Angels so of course they too came to mind when I read that line. Statues of screaming, razor toothed Angels that move when you blink. I definitely had the feeling that Gamache was going to need to keep his eyes open at all times.

  6. Julie Buck says:

    I love that, Anna. I’m always wondering why I highlighted something or thought this or that was important!

  7. Julie Buck says:

    In what ways is the map significant to Gamache, the villagers, and the various cadets? What significance does it have for you?

    We have kind of danced around this question already. I love maps – especially old ones that have illustrations on them – like this one: http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_640x430/public/carta_marinaheader.jpg

    The pictures on the map – the snowman, the pyramid, etc. remind of those kinds of maps. And I love that the stained glass picture included the map in a recognizable form, even though no-one had noticed it before. In every way, this was part of the magic I feel in Three Pines – the place you only seem to find if you first allow yourself to be lost.

    I think it was significant to Gamache simply as a little, harmless mystery to be solved as almost a relief from the unfolding horror of the mystery at the Academy. And for the cadets – it kept them safe while they sorted things out – gave them something to do, while also honing some skills. Not everything will be easy once they’re police officers, and clues won’t always make sense. It’s good practice. I’ve only read the book once, and the last half I gobbled – so am concerned that I’m missing something. I don’t think it really had much to do with the actual murder, other than being placed in The Duke’s bedside table so that Amelia could be framed for the murder. I love, though, that it gave us Our Lady of the Roof Trusses. The whimsy is needed to balance the hard lessons these poor cadets have been learning.

  8. Anna says:

    I listened to a short interview with Louise where she talked about the map and the fact that it was hidden and whether some things are meant to be found. Strangely, the act of hiding implies to me that an object should continue to exist and one day be revealed, else it should have been destroyed. In that case, what did the maker expect when the map finally reemerged?
    Like Three Pines is hidden and the map was hidden, the true identity of the map maker was also obscured. It is hard to have secrets so I wonder if the intention was for the truth to be known, about her….about Three Pines I am not so sure.
    Julie is right. There is an important magic to Three Pines and for it to work it needs to be a place to be found by necessity. Mind you that must make it challenging for businesses that rely on tourism like B&Bs and Bistros…yet they continue to function regardless.

  9. Julie Buck says:

    Haha – Anna – I think that Gabri would quit in a fit of pique if tourists found the B & B and he was required to work every day, hahaha. “Townies” certainly keep the Bistro going, and I think that Olivier sells his antiques online. But I wonder what the B & B does (not to mention the Vincent’s inn) now that Gamache is not regularly staying there during investigations. I’ve decided that Myrna must be independently wealthy, as she not only doesn’t have many customers, but she is always in the Bistro rather than the store… I think Clara buys books and then sells them back to Myrna (and who knows, if she’s like me, later she buys them again), and Myrna brought a bag of books to Reine-Marie, so she has a few customers, but that can’t be enough to pay the rent. I don’t see Olivier giving deep discounts on the rent… hahaha.

    Hidden things – I feel that the woman who hid the map in the stained glass meant for her son to find THAT, if he came home and wondered where she was. But the actual map – was it really “hidden” in the wall, or was it just stuffed in there the way they used to do to get rid of scraps and have a little (and I do mean little) insulation. Our house is about 100 years old, and Vern has found many things (mostly newspapers and old pencil stubs and bits of string) in the walls, and we’ve never thought that anyone was hiding them – just stuffing them in there to be “out of sight, out of mind”. Easier than walking all the way over to the trash… Of course those same people made sure we don’t have a right angle anywhere in the house, so who knows what they were up to?

    Now, if Louise said it was hidden, I think we have to take that at face value – if she doesn’t know, we’re in trouble, hahaha. So why WOULD this person hide the map? To be sure that nobody figured out who she was? Or that nobody put Three Pines on any more maps? It’s not like new maps are not being made all the time – why has nobody else in the town or nearby, ever decided it should be on a map? It’s been good as a hiding place, but beyond that? Why? Maybe everyone knows how magic the place is, and how good it is that it is a part of the world, but not “of” the world today?

    • Charlotte says:

      Maybe the map wasn’t actually ‘hidden’. It was left in the house and just gathered up with other paper to act as insulation in the wall.

  10. Anna says:

    I was thinking that one aspect of jealousy is that it is like the dark side of loyalty. When you feel very loyal to something or someone it is very easy to feel jealous of anyone who might interfere with that relationship. I am not sure I can articulate properly with jetlag dulling my senses but I shall throw out random thoughts and see if you can all run with the ball.
    Michel was loyal to Gamache as a boy but did that loyalty twist as Gamache became successful and popular? Did Brebouf feel his own inadequacies in the presence of Gamache’s calm intelligence and become drawn to others with power to advance himself because he somehow felt ‘betrayed’ by Gamache rising through the ranks?
    Perhaps as a boy Brebouf felt empowered by Gamache’s loss. Armand needed him and that made him feel strong and protective. When Armand no longer needed his friend’s strength and protection did that make Brebouf feel a little lost, a bit redundant and a bit angry? Is that it all it took for love to turn into something equally strong but bitter like wine become vinegar?
    In the end, Brebouf wanted to be strong again, once more the protector. Perhaps he thought he could regain the warm feeling that role had given him as boy but it did not work. The action he took twisted like his love.

  11. Julie Buck says:

    I think that’s exactly what happened, Anna. Michel had a role when they were young, and he saw Gamache as the weaker one, needing his protection. He maybe didn’t realize that it was temporary, and that later, Armand was the stronger of the two. Certainly, he was able to resist the temptation to “go along” which Michel was not able to do. Maybe that made Michel angry – “why is HE the strong one? That’s supposed to be me”? And it quickly becomes a resentment of his “holier than thou” attitude. I think I’ve told this story before, and it holds true here. My husband is a professor who was not promoted. Early in his career, he noticed that so many were responding to the “publish or perish” mandate that they were constantly rehashing the same work. He didn’t see any value in that, so he published far less than others. Professors in America have three jobs, the least of which is teaching. The other two are, publish (this is what brings grant money in to the University) and sit on committees. There are countless committees supposedly doing administrative work, but usually ending up in endless meetings that accomplish very little. Again, when he was on committees, he was a thorn in their sides, because he wanted to get something done. So – he was always passed over for promotion, which was fine with him. In his last few years before retirement, he went back to a heavy teaching load, and teaching undergrads at that (the lowest of the low), which he liked doing. He was a very good teacher, and his students responded very well to him. One day, he was in his office, whistling as he was packing up to come home, and his next-door neighbor peered into his office, with his pinched little face. “What do YOU have to be so happy about?” Vern was, of course, quite taken aback, but I think it shows that the community there was busy “ostracizing” him, while he was happily working away and living his life quite independent of them. This drove the other fellow crazy, I guess – he had thought that Vern should be miserable like he was, because, of course, he was publishing and sitting on committees and the work had no intrinsic value. Somehow, I think Brebeuf was like that.

    And I think you’re right, Anna, that he thought his taking charge and doing what “had to be done” was an act of love, and would make things right with Gamache.

  12. Anna says:

    I am not sure if you have told that story or not Julie. Having worked in U iversity es I can tell you it is the same here. The rankings are heavily research dependent and there was the smallest publishable unit….the smallest amount of work you could get a publication from so you could maximize publications from the body of work you were working on. The Professor I worked with always repeated experiments with positive results to verify them which cost time and money so wasn’t what the higher ups wanted but he was a good researcher and he published appropriate bodies of work not insignificant tidbits.
    I have a clear image in my head of the story you told with Vern looking up startled as the grumpy colleague sneered form the doorway….pinched face and all! Go Vern! So like Gamache.

  13. After reading AGR, I could not believe that Amelia would risk her life by playing Russian Roulette. I thought that some one who had fought to survive like she had wouldn’t take a chance on losing her life. Then I realized that I was looking at it through my eyes and not Amelia’s. She knew that her only chance to live a better life was the Academy. If she failed out, she felt that her life would turn into the landlady’s. So if she were killed, it would be better than losing her one chance at a decent life.

  14. Anna says:

    Good point Barbara. It is easy to interpret events from our perspective and impose what we think we would do but harder to truly see it from someone else’s point of view. As much as we all think we would behave a certain way the external pressure to conform or belong is huge as we all know. Amelia needed the Academy far more than even she probably realised and it must have been shaming to be placed in such a difficult position. Survival needs change a person, even a strong one.

  15. When I first read # 4, I was certain that Amelia’s identity was stated in one of the early chapters. Not so. I don’t know why, but I read the entire book knowing Amelia’s identity. I thought Gamache accepting her into the Academy was just another expression of his fairness and forgiveness. I say forgiveness because, even though she wasn’t even born ,some people would still have harbored ill feelings toward her.

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