A Great Reckoning

Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning

Louise Penny

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A Great Reckoning Summary and Study Guide

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A Great Reckoning (2016) is the 12th novel in the Inspector Gamache series. The series consists of contemporary mysteries written by the Canadian author Louise Penny. Like the other novels in the series, A Great Reckoning revolves around the small village of Three Pines, Quebec, and its inhabitants. The novel includes a standalone murder mystery plot and references to events in other novels within the series; Penny explores themes of parenthood, loss, and betrayal. This guide references the 2016 Minotaur edition.

Plot Summary

Armand Gamache is the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec and now lives in the small town of Three Pines, Quebec, with his wife, Reine-Marie. During his time as the Chief of Homicide, Gamache was instrumental in uncovering significant corruption within the Quebec police force. Because of these events, Gamache ended up resigning. At the start of the novel, Gamache begins a new position as the head of the Sûreté Academy, where new cadets are trained for the police force.

Gamache knows that there has been corruption and abuses of power within the academy and wants to reform the institution. Gamache fires many of the existing professors but allows Professor Serge Leduc to stay in his position, even though he knows that Leduc is one of the most corrupt individuals in the academy. Gamache also hires his son-in-law and fellow homicide detective, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, to work as his second-in-command at the academy. Finally, Gamache invites Michel Brébeuf to come and work at the academy. Brébeuf and Gamache have been close friends since childhood and joined the police force together. Brébeuf advanced to a very senior position within the force (Superintendent) but was forced to resign in disgrace after the scandal that Gamache uncovered.

In his new role, Gamache also reviews applications and selects the incoming cohort of cadets. He is responsible for offering admission to a young woman named Amelia Choquet, an unusual choice for the elite program: Amelia has a history of drug use and prostitution and applied to the police academy as a desperate last attempt to turn her life around.

While Gamache starts his new job, Reine-Marie has been helping some of the other villagers to examine old papers that had been found stuffed into the walls of the local bistro to function as insulation. One of the papers is a strange hand-drawn map showing the way to Three Pines; this is striking because Three Pines does not appear on any known maps. Once Gamache begins his job at the academy, he displays the map in his office. Eventually, he gives copies of the map to four cadets: Amelia Choquet, Huifen Cloutier, Nathaniel Smythe, and Jacques Laurin. Gamache is particularly concerned with mentoring these cadets since they are the closest to Leduc and most likely to have been tainted by his influence. He urges them to try to solve the mystery of the map.

A few months after Gamache begins his role, Leduc is found dead. He has been shot in the head in his rooms (the students and many of the faculty live on-site at the academy). The murder weapon, an old-fashioned revolver, is next to him. A copy of the map is found in Leduc’s bedside table. Gamache immediately takes the four cadets to Three Pines to isolate and protect them as he investigates Leduc’s murder. He urges the cadets to find out everything they can about the map and ascertain why Leduc might have had it. Meanwhile, Gamache and others, including Homicide Investigator Isabelle Lacoste and an RCMP officer named Paul Gélinas, begin to investigate the murder.

The small chapel in Three Pines has a stained-glass window commemorating the boys and men from the village who died in World War I; the cadets notice that one of the soldiers depicted in the window is shown with the same map sticking out of his bag. They determine that the map is an orienteering map and that it was created by a famous Quebec cartographer named Antony Turcotte. However, they cannot find any connection between Turcotte, the window, and Leduc. Meanwhile, Jean-Guy’s investigation into the murder weapon leads him to a mysterious hint about the name “Clairton.” As the investigation drags on, Gélinas becomes increasingly suspicious that Gamache might have killed Leduc himself. There also seems to be a mysterious connection between Amelia and Gamache, and many wonder why he seems so protective of the young woman.

Eventually, Jean-Guy and Gamache realize why Leduc owned a revolver: he forced the cadets he was closest with to play Russian roulette. Gamache is horrified by the extent of the abuse that Leduc was perpetuating, and this discovery allows him to finally solve the crime. Gamache confronts Brébeuf, who admits that he quickly learned of the abuse upon arriving at the academy. Brébeuf wanted to atone for his previous betrayals, and he believed that Gamache would want Leduc dead as retribution for his horrible acts. Brébeuf had also learned that Amelia is the daughter of the man responsible for the death of Gamache’s parents (they died in a car accident when Gamache was a child). Believing that his former friend would condone his actions, Brébeuf killed Leduc and then staged the crime scene to implicate Amelia, including placing her copy of the map in Leduc’s room.

When Gamache corrects Brébeuf, explaining that he bears Amelia no ill will, Brébeuf is crushed. Facing the prospect of a lifetime in prison, Brébeuf shoots and kills himself in front of Gamache. Meanwhile, Gamache has also uncovered that Gélinas has been Leduc’s partner in the various forms of corruption occurring at the academy; these suspicions were the reason that Gamache invited Gélinas to be part of the investigation. Gélinas is arrested for his crimes.

Sometime later, the cadets and the villagers finally solve the mystery of the orienteering map. In the early 20th century, a woman named Marie Valois worked as a cartographer under the pseudonym of Antony Turcotte; she had to use a male name since it was not considered appropriate for a woman to have a profession. Marie lived in Three Pines with her three sons. The three sons were all killed on the same day in a World War I battle; devastated, Marie moved away from Three Pines and stopped including it on the many maps she produced of the region. However, she created the whimsical orienteering map and left it behind at the building that would become the bistro; she also ensured that the commemorative stained-glass window featured the map and that these details, combined with a compass hidden in another stained-glass window, pointed to her new home in case her sons ever returned to look for her. Marie died in her new home and never returned. At the end of the novel, Gamache buries the report documenting that Amelia’s father killed his parents. 

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