Kingdom of the Blind is the latest in Louise Penny’s popular mystery series featuring Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, former head of the Sûreté de Québec, who lives with his wife Reine-Marie in the tiny village of Three Pines. Readers of Penny’s series think of the inhabitants of Three Pines as old friends: the artist Clara, the bookstore owner and former psychologist Myrna, Olivier and Gabri, who own the bistro and make delicious meals, and the cantankerous old poet Ruth and her pet duck Rosa.
As Kingdom of the Blind begins, Gamache is on suspension from the Sûreté following the events of the previous summer, detailed in the previous volume, Glass Houses. He receives a note asking him to meet someone at an abandoned, crumbling farmhouse, and finds that he has been named one of the executors of the will of a recently-deceased woman he never knew. His fellow executors are Myrna and a young builder named Benedict, who also did not know the dead woman. Eventually he finds out that she was an eccentric cleaning woman who called herself the Baroness. In her will, she leaves a fortune, which she did not have, to her three adult children. And then the farmhouse collapses and the body of the woman’s oldest son is found in the ruins. It turns out he was murdered before the house collapsed, and the murder was made to look like an accident.
Gamache’s investigation uncovers the history of the family, and it turns out that the dead woman might actually have been a baroness, but the family’s title and fortune are the object of a family feud that goes back over a hundred years. They were a wealthy Austrian Jewish family, possibly related to the Rothschilds. Any fortune they might once have had has been stolen by the Nazis, but that does not keep the two branches of the family from fighting over it. Was the “Baroness’s” son killed because of this feud? Or is there another motive? Gamache discovers that the dead man, an investment broker, might have been stealing large amounts of money from his clients. Did one of them kill him?
Meanwhile, the investigation into the events that caused Gamache’s suspension has been dragging out for months. Gamache expected to be reinstated quickly, but politics are involved, and people in authority are putting pressure on his second-in-command and son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, now the acting head of homicide, to sign a document disassociating himself from Gamache. Gamache’s actions had brought down the drug cartels in Québec, but he allowed one shipment of a new, powerful drug to go through. This drug will kill thousands once it hits the streets, and Gamache must do all he can to prevent that from happening. But first he must find the shipment. Amelia Choquet, a young cadet at the Sûreté Academy, who comes from a background of prostitution and drug use, has recently been expelled from the Academy because drugs were found in her bedroom. As readers of the series will know, Gamache was the one who admitted Amelia to the Academy after everyone else thought she was a hopeless case. After her expulsion, Amelia goes back to her old life in the slums of Montréal. Gamache has her followed by undercover police officers in order to find the new drug before it hits the streets.
As always with Penny, her themes of kindness and compassion, and giving people second chances, shine through in this book. Another theme of Kingdom of the Blind is people’s blind spots, which keep us from seeing the faults in ourselves and in those we love. For example, was Gamache right or wrong to give Amelia a second chance? This type of question occurs again and again in Penny’s series. Penny’s descriptions of Three Pines and its inhabitants are vivid. At the beginning of the book, a blizzard hits Three Pines, and you feel cold just reading about it. But you also feel the warmth of the fire in the Bistro, as people gather around it to escape the blizzard. This was a book that almost didn’t get written. Penny’s husband, who had long suffered from dementia, died before she began it. He was the inspiration for Gamache and at first she felt she could not continue the series. But I am very glad she did. Kingdom of the Blind is one of the best entries in the series, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for Gamache, Beauvoir, and the inhabitants of Three Pines.
Kingdom of the Blind is available from the Browsing Collection of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.