58 pages 1 hour read

Louise Penny

A World of Curiosities

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide



A World of Curiosities (2022) is the 18th novel in the Inspector Gamache mystery series written by the Canadian author Louise Penny. Like the others, this one revolves around the small village of Three Pines, Quebec. The central mystery involves the discovery of a sealed and hidden room containing a strange and sinister painting; Gamache’s investigation of the painting leads him to confront frightening events from his past, as well as themes of forgiveness, redemption, and fierce bonds between family members. This guide references the 2022 Minotaur Books edition.

Content Warning: The novel and the guide include discussion of death by suicide, sexual abuse of children, mass shootings, and addiction.

Plot Summary

Myrna Landers is considering leaving the small and close-knit community of Three Pines, because her loft apartment is beginning to be too small for her needs. Fiona Arsenault, a recent graduate of an engineering program, thinks that there might be an additional room into which the loft could be expanded. This suggestion triggers a memory for Myrna’s partner, Billy, who explains to the residents of Three Pines (including acclaimed homicide detective Chief Inspector Armand Gamache) that he received a mysterious letter more than a month earlier. The letter is more than a hundred years old and was originally sent by Billy’s ancestor, Pierre Stone. In the letter, Pierre (a stonemason by trade) describes a mysterious job in which he was hired to brick up a small room without asking any questions, seeing what was inside the room, or ever explaining what he did.

Billy, Myrna, Gamache, and other residents of Three Pines tear down a wall in Myrna’s loft and access a hidden room. The room contains a copy of the 17th-century painting The Paston Treasure, updated with additional objects added to it. Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beavoir, go to the residence where the letter was sent (before having been forwarded to Billy); this had been the home of Billy’s family for generations but has subsequently been sold to a man named Monsieur Godin and his wife, Patricia. When they arrive, Monsieur Godin explains that his wife died about five weeks earlier; Patricia had received the letter, forwarded it to Billy, and died almost immediately afterward. Moreover, while her death was ruled a suicide, Monsieur Godin is convinced that Patricia would not have killed herself. Gamache begins to investigate the case.

More than 15 years earlier, Gamache and Jean-Guy (a young agent at the time) were called to investigate the death of Clotilde Arsenault after her body was found in a lake. Gamache was concerned about Clotilde’s two children, Fiona and Sam, who had been the ones to report their mother missing. He was horrified to find that their mother had made money from adults who paid to have sex with the two children. Moreover, Gamache realized that members of the police department had been participating in these atrocious acts. While he was able to bring the police officials who were implicated to justice, he quickly determined that the two children had been the ones to kill their mother. Although he argued that they were acting out of trauma and in self-defense, Fiona was tried as an adult and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Her sentence was especially harsh because Sam claimed that Fiona was the instigator of the plan and had also attacked him.

Gamache remained in close contact with Fiona while she served her sentence; he helped her to plan for her future, including completing an engineering degree after she was paroled. Gamache has always mistrusted Sam and believed that Sam is the more dangerous of the two siblings.

As Gamache investigates the death of Patricia Godin, he confronts a frightening possibility: that John Fleming, a serial killer, is somehow involved in the case. Fleming has been imprisoned for years after being found guilty of a series of horrific murders and has a vendetta against Gamache: Years earlier, Gamache needed information from Fleming related to a different case, and he falsely led Fleming to believe that he would secure the murderer’s freedom in exchange for his help. When Fleming realized he had been deceived, he vowed revenge against Gamache, even though it initially seemed impossible that he could achieve this while confined to prison. He secretly escapes, though, and as Gamache learns this, he becomes increasingly afraid that Fleming is coming after him and his beloved family.

As Gamache’s worries increase, he attempts to keep his family safe and narrows down a pool of men who could be Fleming in disguise. He also gradually pieces together how Fleming, obsessed with revenge, concocted an elaborate plan: It was he who inserted a series of clues into the painting, arranged to have it concealed it in the hidden room, and then also arranged for the discovery of the letter. Fleming knew that the discovery of Stone’s letter would lead to the hidden room being uncovered, which would in turn lead to the discovery of the mysterious painting. By studying the painting, Gamache realizes the menacing threat that Fleming poses.

That threat comes clear when Fleming, aided by both Sam and Fiona (the latter is his biological daughter), holds Gamache and Jean-Guy captive. Even worse, Fleming has also abducted Gamache’s beloved wife, Reine-Marie. He plans to murder Gamache, Reine-Marie, and Jean-Guy, and then go after their children and grandchildren. Fortunately, Agent Amelia Choquet, a young agent with a troubled past who began working with the police force after Gamache helped her get into the police academy, comes to their aid. At the last minute, Fiona also rejects Fleming’s plan and secretly helps the police forces interrupt a standoff. In the end, Gamache ends up striking and killing Fleming; Sam and Fiona are both brought to justice for their role in the crimes Fleming was planning.

Despite the traumatic events (which take place in their beloved house in Three Pines), at the end of the novel, Gamache and Reine-Marie are able to feel a sense of peace, calm, and safety in their community. Reine-Marie is also even able to forgive Fiona for her role in the terrible acts that took place.

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