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Crime fiction roundup: Louise Penny’s eighth is a charm

Louise Penny


The Beautiful Mystery
By Louise Penny, St. Martin's, 373 pages, $27.99

Many good series are flagging by book eight. Characters weaken, charm becomes cliché, plots creak. Not with Louise Penny; The Beautiful Mystery is the best Inspector Gamache so far, and shows that Penny can add depth to her Quebec charm to keep the narratives fresh.

We are again in rural Quebec, at the Monastery of St-Gilbert-entre-des-Loups, a place of peace and contemplation. Two dozen cloistered monks live here, under a vow of silence, except when they raise their voices in song to God. That chant, The Beautiful Mystery, has made them famous. But evil can be at work, even in the silence, and murder brings Gamache to the monastery. It would appear that, in addition to raising chickens, and making fine chocolates and glorious music, one of the monks has committed murder.

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Penny's forte, as always, is her ability to create a perfect setting in the Quebec forest. St-Gilbert is exquisitely done, a perfect foil for the murder. Gamache is at the peak of his game, ferreting out the clues amid the beauty. Once again, Penny proves herself a mistress of the puzzle in the village.

Standing in Another Man's Grave
By Ian Rankin, Orion, 356 pages, $24.99

Two words: Rebus is back. Not to say that I haven't enjoyed Malcolm Fox and the Internal Affairs Unit, but Rebus has my heart. He's older, fatter, but no wiser and he has found retirement boring. So when Edinburgh's PD lifts its ban on aged cops, he's hoping to get into the cold case unit. His chances are bad, for his reputation has preceded him and the occasional drink with his old nemesis Big Ger Cafferty has brought him to the attention of Fox and internal affairs. But then, a disappeared girl seems to be the latest in a series and Rebus is off, searching for missing women in one of his best cases.

The Jewels of Paradise
By Donna Leon, Atlantic, 256 pages, $30

This dazzling stand-alone from Leon introduces Caterina Pellegrini, born Venetian but late of Birmingham, England. Caterina is an expert on Baroque opera and when she's summoned back to Venice, she finds herself in he midst of several mysteries. Her task is to examine the documents found in two old trunks. The papers belonged to a forgotten Baroque composer who died without heirs. Two remote descendants both believe the trunks hold a possible fortune. Caterina must find the "testamentary dispositions" of the composer. Her search for truth takes her into the very heart of Baroque Venice. This is absolutely one of Donna Leon's best books, built on her knowledge and love of Baroque music. I hope Caterina will be returning.

Rush Of Blood
By Mark Billingham, Little, Brown, 379 pages, $24.99

Mark Billingham takes us on a very unhappy holiday in this sizzling thriller that starts in Florida and moves back to Britain. In four pages, he manages to set the scene for a horrible crime and take us back into the plot. Billingham is brilliant with both characters and narrative and he's at his best in this very sad tale of love and loss.

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