45 pages 1 hour read

Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


A Fatal Grace is the second title in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache cozy mystery series. First published in 2007, it won the 2007 Agatha Award for Best Novel and has been hailed as “a highly intelligent mystery” by Library Journal. The series currently consists of 15 titles, most of which have reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Penny has won multiple awards for the series, including the Anthony (five times), the Agatha (five times), and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award (twice). To date, only the first title in the series, Still Life, has been made into a film. The series is set in contemporary Canada. Many of the stories take place in the fictional village of Three Pines, near Montreal. Penny describes the setting in great detail as the village becomes a refuge for its inhabitants and a haven of tranquility for Inspector Gamache. The locals interact as a large extended family.

Plot Summary

A Fatal Grace takes place between December 22 and New Year’s Day. It begins with the murder of a woman named Cecilia “CC” de Poitiers during the Three Pines annual Christmas curling tournament. CC is a newcomer to the village and considers herself a New Age lifestyle coach. She’s written a book entitled Be Calm and is launching a product line based on a philosophy she calls Li Bien. Far from the enlightened soul she believes herself to be, CC is thoroughly disliked by everyone for her arrogance and mistreatment of her obese daughter, Crie.

CC’s death is particularly bizarre. She’s standing on a frozen lake watching the curling match when she’s electrocuted. Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté de Quebec investigates the crime. Gamache has mixed feelings about returning to Three Pines because he solved a murder there the year before and almost lost his life in the process. The inspector brings a team of detectives with him to work on CC’s murder. Gamache simultaneously investigates the case of a strangled beggar who was found dead outside of a Montreal department store.

Gamache uses his favorite technique to gather clues: He strolls around the village and engages locals in casual conversation rather than interrogate them officially. He learns that CC came to Three Pines looking for her missing mother. She upset many villagers when they witnessed her publicly humiliate her daughter’s singing voice on Christmas Eve.

Gamache’s two cases merge into one when he discovers that CC’s missing mother is the mentally deranged beggar from Montreal, who was also murdered. The inspector concludes that exposure of CC’s dubious parentage would have damaged her credibility and her product launch, so CC killed her mother. CC’s daughter, in turn, killed CC because the girl could no longer bear her mother’s constant abuse.

The limited third-person narration depends on frequent jumps from one character’s point of view to another. The author recounts most of the story simultaneously from the perspective of four or five characters. Shifts in point of view occur rapidly within chapters and sometimes within paragraphs. The tone changes to match the personality of narrator. The verbal interaction among the characters is fast-paced and frequently funny. The mood of the novel can oscillate between humor and extreme pathos, depending on the scene.

The author advances the plot of this character-driven story primarily through group discussions, one-on-one dialogue, and internal monologue. Since Gamache’s technique relies on understanding the mind of a murderer, the book focuses heavily on probing the characters’ beliefs and insecurities.

The book’s villain and murder victim, CC de Poitiers, is the focal point for an examination of book’s major themes: the failure to find inner calm, the absence of validation, and the power of belief to shape reality.

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