The bucolic village of Three Pines in the southern region of Quebec is the sort of town where the only reason the doors are ever locked is to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time.
But when Jane Neal, one of
Three Pines' most beloved residents, is found murdered in the local forest, this quaint community of artists, writers and retirees is shaken to its very core. Unfortunately, these villagers have to learn the hard lesson that the rules of normal life are suspended when there
is a violent death.
Most devastated are local painters Clara Morrow and her husband, Peter, Jane's closest friends and confidantes. Clara and Peter are mystified at why someone would want to kill this kindly, gentile seventy-six-year-old woman who was an ex-school teacher, tended roses, ran the Anglican Church Women, and supported the various art clubs.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is determined to hunt down Jane's killer. With the help of his deputy, Jean Guy Beavior, Gamache begins his investigation, steadily unraveling the clues and delving into some long buried secrets that continue to haunt the inhabitants of this small town.
An arrow that pierced her heart killed Jane; as it is bow-hunting season, her death could have been an accident. But Gamache and Beavior can't find the murder weapon, and no one has bothered to come forward to claim responsibility.
As fragments of the crime begin to materialize, Gamache turns to the Crofts and their teenage son, Phillippe. Phillippe at first appears to be the obvious suspect; he once clashed with Jane and was also an experienced marksman. Gamache, however, becomes caught up in a certainty he cannot prove - there's just no motive for the crime.
As the pall of grief settles on the community, the detectives discover that Jane died just as her painting
"Fair Day" was accepted for the local art show, much to the chagrin of some of the committee members. Gamache is convinced that this painting is somewhat connected to Jane's petulant niece, Yolande Fontaine, who is frantic to take over her estranged aunt's house.
Author Louise Penny creates an eclectic cast of characters: there's Peter's grieving and emotionally shut-off friend Ben Hadley, who harbors a secret desires for Clara and conceals a difficult past; there's also the town's only gay couple, Olivier and Gabri, who run the local bed and breakfast, selling antiques on the side. Distrust also falls on Ruth, an embittered poet whose motives are tied to the death of a mutual friend of hers and Jane's.
Penny manages to keep the plot moving as the unhurried, unperturbed, unstoppable Gamache and his team of crack detectives, including the insecure and arrogant young Yvette Nichol, navigates an intricate web of deception, where art runs in the family and where everyone around treats it like law.
As Armand gets the heart of Jane's murder and long-concealed secrets are revealed, he finds himself almost falling in love with all these townsfolk, where their long-lived peace has been threatened in this old and charming village that "hasn't become old without knowing grief."