Louise Penny’s Most Haunting Novel Yet

Louise Penny sends her Canadian detective to Paris in ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE (Minotaur, 448 pp., $28.99) — and not a moment too soon. Over the course of this endearing series of village mysteries, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec has examined so many corpses and caught so many murderers that the Canadian hamlet of
Three Pines must be running
out of bodies, both warm and
cold.

Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, are in Paris to attend the birth of their fourth grandchild, which gives Gamache the chance to visit his godfather, Stephen Horowitz. Their reunion takes place in the garden of the Musée Rodin, where the haunting statue of “The Burghers of Calais,” headed for the gallows to save their town, moves them to reflect on the notion of self-sacrifice. Penny will return to that theme at the end of the book, when someone observes: “It’s an amazing thing, to be willing to die for each other.”

Gamache’s love is put to the test when someone in a van tries to run down his godfather, sending him to the hospital near death. An accident? The inspector thinks not. But what has Horowitz, a kind and generous old billionaire, ever done to make someone want to murder him? To answer that question, Gamache undertakes a dizzying investigation that takes him all over the city, from the top of the Eiffel Tower to the depths of the national archives.

Although Penny touches on a wide range of subjects in this expansive story, her main concern is with the sacrifices we make for those we love. Here, even the loving relationship between Gamache and his son, Daniel, is challenged. If you think about it, the underlying theme of all of Penny’s books is Honor Thy Family — the one you were born with, the one you’ve acquired during your lifetime and the Family of Man.

However much we may romanticize the Middle Ages, visions of primitive dentistry invariably kill that fantasy. To take the edge off the agony, Adelia Aguilar, the skilled herbalist and healer in Ariana Franklin’s superb medieval mysteries, might offer the sufferer a cup of poppy-head tea, which is basically pure cocaine. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (Morrow, 412 pp., $27.99), written by the late author’s daughter, Samantha Norman, completes the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series with an appropriate homage, a story featuring mother-and-daughter sleuths. Both Adelia and her daughter, Allie, address their skills to solving the murders of young women whose violated bodies are discovered in the Fens. But the urgency to find a husband for Allie also drives the story.

The forensic procedures are appropriately grotesque (leeches, anyone?), and the period settings run to luscious details, like “a perfect pastry sculpture of the baby Jesus” at a sumptuous Christmas banquet. Don’t be distracted from Norman’s true theme; namely, the crushingly limited life choices for women — even the most highborn women — of this period.

Who doesn’t love “large and shabby” Vera Stanhope, the blunt detective in Ann Cleeves’s Northumberland police procedurals? She is already one of the genre immortals. Cleeves delivers some choice Vera moments in THE DARKEST EVENING (Minotaur, 373 pp., $27.99), beginning with her rescue of a toddler in the middle of a blinding blizzard. (Nature red in tooth and claw is a favorite subject of this author, whose early mysteries about pretty birds and homicidal bird-watchers are unsung classics.)

“Vera’s experience of small children was limited,” we are drolly informed, so she hastily deposits the child at the nearest house. This proves to be a gracious old pile known as Brockburn, where a party of vacuous people are sitting down to eat dinner and assassinate the characters of absent friends. But after a farmer on a tractor uncovers a woman’s body half buried in the snow, dinner is once again interrupted and the guests couldn’t be more delighted “about being in their very own country-house murder mystery.” And who could blame them?

Noir, noir, noir — everybody wants to write noir fiction. But most self-anointed “noir” narratives just don’t hack it. They’re dark and dreary, to be sure; but a true noir mystery must also have a black heart. This kind of spiritual despair comes naturally to Stuart Neville, whose Belfast crime novels bleed. The title novella in THE TRAVELLER AND OTHER STORIES (Soho Crime, 336 pp., $27.95) features his brilliant contract killer, Gerry Fegan, who gave us the miseries in “The Ghosts of Belfast” and returns here as a revenant.

Bearing the ghastly physical scars from being burned to death, the hit man is still plying his merciless trade. His current assignment is to eliminate Jack Lennon, after first killing his little girl, Ellen, in front of his eyes. Fegan goes through some mental anguish about this, but a job is a job. Only this time, he’s being pursued by “the Others” — the souls of all the people he murdered — and that makes all the difference in the world.

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