Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning

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A Great Reckoning Summary

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A Great Reckoning is a 2016 mystery novel by writer Louise Penny. The book is the 12th in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, following the previous installment, The Nature of the Beast. The book follows a newly-retired Gamache as he takes on his new position training police officers. A strange map and the mysterious murder of a professor at the academy lead Gamache to surprising, sometimes twisted, discoveries. Penny is a Canadian author and former radio journalist, best known for her Inspector Gamache series.

The book opens with Gamache no longer an inspector. He has retired, and instead taken on a position at the Sûreté Academy in Québec, training new police offers. On the first day of his new job, he is gifted a mysterious map. The map, which appears to be over 100 years old, was recently discovered within the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, the village featured in previous Gamache books where he has a house with his wife, Reine-Marie.

Three Pines is a place with several notable quirks: it cannot be found on any map, and can only be stumbled upon by outsiders. This is the only map anyone has ever seen that depicts Three Pines; the village never appeared on any other official map. This map appears to have been made by a cartographer named Antony Turcotte, but there are no records of a man by that name. Gamache has much sleuthing ahead if he is to discover the map’s secrets.

Meanwhile, at the Academy, Gamache has his work cut out for him. Corruption is rampant within. Graduated cadets have gone on to cruelty and intimidation in their jobs. To Gamache, an honorable former officer, this is disturbing. He is determined to find the source of the Academy’s problems and root it out. Two of his former colleagues teach at the Academy: one is an old friend, Michel Brébeuf, a disgraced officer whom Gamache is offering a second chance. He is indebted to Brébeuf, who took care of Gamache after his parents were killed in a collision with a drunk driver; Gamache was only a child at the time. The other is Serge Leduc. One of Gamache’s first acts when he takes over the Academy is demoting Leduc, whom he does not trust. He suspects that Leduc has been abusing the students in some way, but he does not have evidence.

The former inspector also reviews the applications to the Academy, and at his discretion chooses to reverse some of the acceptances and declines, making his own selection of suitable first-years. One of his selections is Amelia Choquet, a special admission. She is a hard, young woman, tattooed and pierced, with a past that includes drug addiction and sex work. Gamache comes under fire for selecting Choquet, who on the surface does not sound like a suitable candidate. He also has a strange reaction to reading her name on her application. She shares a first name with Gamache’s dead mother, but it is at her last name that he recoils.

Gamache takes four vulnerable new cadets under his wing: Huifen Cloutier, Jacques Laurin, Nathaniel Smythe, and Amelia. He presents the four cadets with a copy of the map and an invitation to help solve the mystery. He hopes to set them on the right and moral path now that he is in charge.

Things take a turn when Leduc is found dead, apparently murdered. Strangely, a copy of the map is found by his side. To Gamache’s astonishment, he himself becomes a person of interest in Leduc’s murder. Gamache must find his killer and clear his own name.

In the end, the truth emerges. Brébeuf uncovered Leduc’s abuse of the cadets: for years, he had forced them to play sick games of Russian Roulette. Brébeuf, who has long seen himself as Gamache’s protector, saw this revelation as his last chance to shield his old friend: he says he killed Leduc to prevent Gamache from killing the man himself if he found out the truth. Brébeuf confesses to Gamache, and promptly kills himself before he can be arrested.

As for the map, its secret has been hiding in plain sight: the scene it depicts matches one found in a stained-glass window of the church at Three Pines. The cartographer was an alias. The map’s true author was a widow named Marie Valois. Her three sons went off to fight in WWI. Her three sons had planted the three pines the town is named for. She managed to somehow remove Three Pines from official maps because the name was painful for her; it reminded her too much of her missing sons. Marie had intended to restore the name, but died before she did so. Later, other villagers recreated her map in the stained-glass window of the church, so her sons would know how to find her if they returned from the war. The strange clues represented on the map lead to Marie’s grave.

Gamache presides over that year’s graduation at the Academy, delivering a humbling speech in which he apologizes for any mistakes he has made. Amelia has done well for herself and seems poised to turn her life around. Gamache meets her father, and the connection between the detective and his cadet is revealed: Amelia’s father was the drunk driver who killed his parents. He has mentored her out of forgiveness and compassion.

A Great Reckoning received positive reviews from critics and readers. It won an Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and was a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee in the Mystery & Thriller category. In a bittersweet afterword, Penny mentioned that her husband Michael, the inspiration for many aspects of Gamache’s character, was now suffering from dementia and slowly losing himself. The book does not mark the end of the series; Penny wrote a 13th installment, Glass Houses, in 2017.