Spoiler-Free Book Review:
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Rating: 8.0 out of 10 stars
- Strong writing voice
- Brilliant descriptions
- Cozy small town setting
- Most of the characters are likeable and beautifully written
- LGBTQ+ representation
- Creative murder method
- Interesting poetry
- Penny’s treatment of an overweight character and obsession with her weight comes off like fat-shaming
- Characters such as the murder victim are one-dimensional
There are no spoilers for A Fatal Grace in this review, but there are a few minor spoilers for Still Life, the first book in the series.
There are plenty of strange ways to kill a person, but electrocution on a frozen lake during a curling match wins the prize. And that’s no spoiler–it was in the blurb on the back of my version of the book. We know the victim is CC Poitiers from the first page. She’s one of the one-dimensional characters I was talking about. She’s just plain evil, like Disney’s 1961 Cruella de Vil. She even wears shoes made from the pelts of baby seals.
Touching her was like caressing a veneer of ice. There was a beauty to it, and a frailty he found attractive. But there was also danger. If she ever broke, if she shattered, she would tear him to pieces.”Saul referring to CC
She’s prideful, cruel, abusive and detestable. She wrote an utter trash manuscript and embraced the appropriated and distorted philosophies of several cultures.
Publishing companies “immediately recogniz[ed] the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she’d eat her young.”
With the way she treats her daughter Crie, it seems that she barely stopped short of eating her young. Crie is overweight and timidly wants her mother’s affection. Those are basically the two things we learn about her for almost the whole novel.
I hate how Penny repeatedly emphasizes how fat Crie is in really uncomfortable language.
And beside him an enormous child was wearing a sleeveless sundress of the brightest pink. Her underarms bulged and flopped and the rolls of her waist made the skintight dress look like a melting strawberry ice cream. It was grotesque.Penny describing Crie
This is cringey and insensitive. This is a child we are talking about, and just because she is obese doesn’t mean everyone has to think of her as grotesque or gross. It keeps happening.
Madame Latour stared at the huge girl and felt a bit of her lunch in her throat. Those rolls of fat, those dreadful dimples, the underwear disappearing into the flesh.”
Seriously? She is so obese that she makes someone almost throw up? I don’t know why Penny needs to emphasize that Crie is unattractive and “grotesque.” She’s just a kid and she’s overweight, so what? Crie doesn’t get much development or depth for most of the book, which is a shame.
Armand Gamache on the other hand, has plenty of depth and is a character I can truly appreciate. He can be careful, pushy, kind, stern, intelligent, ignorant…
Armand Gamache knew something many of his colleagues never figured out. Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.
I love this description. Like much of Penny’s prose, it has a spark of inspiration to it. I also enjoyed the poetry by Ruth Zardo, another beloved character.
You were a moth
Brushing against my cheek
in the dark.
I killed you
you were only a moth
with no sting.”Ruth Zardo’s poem
It was nice to see some LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, mostly through Gabri and his partner Olivier, who are frankly cute together. Remember Phillipe from the first novel? He makes a reappearance too.
The research was good. She was either already very familiar with the sport of curling, or learned a bunch from research. Same with the details of the electrocution. A lot of work went into those details.
The ending was interesting and even though my prediction was correct, I wasn’t right about everything, and I don’t think everyone will predict it.
I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates a good murder mystery and would appreciate a murder that is outside the norm.