A Great Reckoning
By Louise Penny, Minotaur, 400 pages, $33.99
This is Louise Penny's 12th Inspector Armand Gamache novel and, at a point where many series are beginning to waver, it's a pleasure to report that this one is as solid as its predecessors. The characters continue to involve us, the setting is – as always – a delight, and the plots are just as engaging as ever. This time out, Gamache is given a gift to mark his new job: cleaning up corruption at the Academy of the Sûreté du Quebec. The gift is an old map, found in the wall of Three Pines' bistro. Then an Academy professor is found dead, with a copy of the old map at hand. This leads Gamache back to Three Pines, where he is forced to dig into the history of people he knows all too well in search of a murderer and, possibly, worse. Definitely one of Louise Penny's best.
Dead Ground In Between
By Maureen Jennings, McClelland & Stewart, 276 pages, $24.95
Fans regularly ask me when Maureen Jennings is going to write another Murdoch Mystery and I tell them – just as regularly – not to fuss. Jennings's excellent Tom Tyler books, set in Britain during the Second World War, are every bit as good. The historical setting is superbly done, right down to the clothes and rationed coal. This is set in Shropshire during the winter – Dec. 7, 1942, to be exact. It's windy, cold, and an old man named Jasper has found a treasure he wants to hide: a small hoard of gold and silver coins hidden by a Roundhead killed by Royalist soldiers in 1643.
Another time, another war. Meanwhile, Inspector Tom Tyler has his own crosses to bear. There's an appearance at the assizes to sort out small-time, small-town crimes – driving after curfew, biking without running lights, boys breaking a shelf of china in a department store. But all these small things turn large when a man is found dead, possibly of natural causes, although there are clues that signal to Tyler that this is murder. I suspect that Murdoch will return some day, when Jennings has the right case for him. For now, there are four good Tom Tyler novels to keep you going.
A Climate Of Fear
By Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Reynolds), Harvill Secker, 410 pages, $25
If you haven't yet discovered this marvellous series, then start now and read backward, because this Gallic flip on Scandinavian Noir is one of the best novels of the year. The dead are two women, supposedly suicides, but Commissaire Adamsberg knows they're not. How? That's for the plot to come. The clues lead not to London or rural France but to an island off the coast of Iceland that may or may not be demonic. What is clear is that two French citizens died there, and there's a connection between those deaths and the dead women back in France. Followers of Vargas know to expect complex plots with wonderful characters and beautiful writing. She has been hailed for her new takes on French Serie Noir; this novel puts her in a class by herself.