Review: Dead Cold by Louise Penny

Title: Dead Cold (a.k.a A Fatal Grace in the US)

Author: Louise Penny

Publisher: Headline [2006]

ISBN: 978-0-7553-2893-2

In a small village about an hour and a half’s drive east of Montreal a woman who is universally despised is murdered while watching a curling match. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec descend on the village to determine who, among the many with strong motive, committed the crime.

Dead Cold is the second book in a series featuring Armand Gamache. I knew very early on in my reading that it wasn’t the first book in the series because every three or four pages cryptic (and some not -so-cryptic) references are made to the events which clearly took place in a previous book. It should have come with a giant warning sticker that said do not read this until you have read Still Life. There were endless mentions of the fallout on Gamache from the previous case and a whole thread about one of the agents on Gamache’s team who had done something awful in the previous case but none of that made sense to me. I know there are no hard and fast rules about how authors of series should treat prior material but, in my opinion, the constant referrals in Dead Cold to prior events damaged the narrative of this story. I am quite sure that if I’d read the first book my experience of this one would have been entirely different and I don’t think that should ever be the case.

I’ll admit I not only struggled to put aside my annoyance at that but there were parts of the story that made little sense to me so I doubt the rest of my judgement is completely objective. However, I shall proceed. I wanted to like the book as it’s set in one of my favourite parts of the world (Quebec province of Canada) and I did find the setting quite lovely. The mixture of French and English language and culture seemed very natural and much as I remembered it and the depiction of life in a small, close-knit community was perfectly charming. I grew up in a country where it snows for a couple of months a year on the very top of a few large hills so my concept of winter was never particularly strong until I spent the season in Canada one year and Penny has also captured what I will always think of as real winter to perfection.

Armand Gamache is in the tradition of Hercule Poirot and Inspector Morse: a genius in his field with almost supernatural abilities to solve crimes by the powers of his deductive reasoning. Unlike those predecessors he’s less arrogant about it, seems far more likable and has better relationships with those around him. I didn’t find him particularly realistic, perhaps uncharitably I never do believe that kind of character, but I did enjoy watching the puzzle unfold through his eyes. The rest of his team weren’t very memorable, they were too fawning in their adoration of Gamache for that, but some of the villagers (potential suspects all) were well created and interesting characters.

I’m not sure I can go back and start with the first book (as I know so much of the outcome now) but if you’re in the market for a solidly written traditional mystery you could do far worse than Louise Penny although I would strongly recommend you read Still Life before this book.

My rating 2.5/5 (heavily influenced by the ‘seepage factor’ from the previous book)

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4 Responses to Review: Dead Cold by Louise Penny

  1. Beth F says:

    I was afraid to read your review because I have the first book here waiting to be read. I’ll have to come back here later!


  2. Kerrie says:

    I agree – you need to read them in order 🙂


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