After the funeral, there is the family and the village. There is a batty aunt, a hysterical and heirless English lord, his ancient butler, and a smattering of inadequate and weak-willed in-laws, waiting for their share. These are the leftovers of the comfortable class, who married badly and relied on unreliable servants. Unlike Miss Gilchrist, who knew how to cook, and ran a pretty little teashop before the war.
Sit down at the kitchen table, have a cup of tea, and listen to the gossip, the rumours, the superstitions, the confabulations and conjurations of the people living in the village near Saint Anne’s well, in the magic woods of Whitethorn, where everybody tells stories. For example, the story of Neddy who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
But you see I never wanted to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Years ago we had one sharp knife in the kitchen and everyone was always talking about in with fear. ‘Will you put the sharp knife up in a shelf before one of the children cuts the hands off themselves?‘ my mom would say. ‘‘Make sure the sharp knife has the blade towards the wall and the handle out. We don’t want someone ripping themselves apart’. They lived in fear of some terrible accident and the kitchen running red with blood… I was sorry for the sharp knife, to tell you the truth….
And so we step into the minds and hearts of these irish folks who live very populated lives, crowded with family obligations, loyalties, suspicions, immoralities and miracles….And everyone with an opinion of everyone else. And always the age old heaviness of poverty and the imperative to hide half of everything true.
An intimate look at the arrangements, organization and order of small town French village life, through the eyes of the jovial, wise and well fed chief of police, for “…not a single pig made it to market without some part of it being offered as part tribute part toll to Bruno…”.
He put the grill close to the coals, arranged the steaks, and then under his breath sang the Marsellaise, which he knew from long practice took him exactly 45 seconds. He turned the steaks, dribbled some of the marinade on top of the charred side, and sang it again. Then he turned the steaks for 10 seconds, pouring on more of the marinade, and then another ten seconds. Now he took them off the coals and put them on the plates he’d left to warm on the bricks he’d left to warm on the side of the grill.
The strolling investigator offers up an amiable mix of local types, of those who “evidently conformed to the English stereotype of bizarre affection for animals dressed in gleaming black boots, cream jodhpurs,” of the prissy European officers of hygiene who threatened the taste of the local cheese, of old men who had not spoken to each other since the war.
The reader sometimes sounds as if he’s sucking on bubbles, a kind of terrible English mumbling.
Imagine a big black woman, Myrna from Montreal, who decides to drive South, but feels peckish after an hour and a half and so stops and bumps into a one-vache town, a fairy-tale town:
Three Pines had what she craved. It had croissants and cafe au lait. It had steak frites and the New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B & B, a general store, it had peace and stillness and laughter. It had great joy and great sadness ….
It had sweet gay couples and poor married artists and old unmarried women; it had village size problems and village size evil and village style murder. It had Christmas, and at Christmas, “homes full of people there and not there,” yakking away in English and French. Myrna never leaves. Inspector Gamache, on the other hand, comes and goes. Each time there is a murder.
The bistro was his secret weapon in tracking down murderers. Not only in Three Pines but in every town and village in Quebec. First he found a comfortable cafe or brasserie or bistro. Then he found the murderer. Because Armand Gamache knew something that others didn’t. At the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped no doubt, twisted and ugly, but an emotion. One so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost. Gamash’s job was to collect the evidence. But also to collect the emotions. And the only way he knew to do that was to get to know the people. To watch and listen, to pay attention. And the best way to do that was in a deceptively casual manner, in a deceptively casual setting. Like the bistro.