Kingdom of the Blind
By Louise Penny. (Minotaur, 386 pages, $28.99.)
It’s especially fitting when a holiday-season release wraps up several lingering mysteries and ties them in a neat bow, as Louise Penny does in resolving her characters’ quandaries from her last bestseller.
In “Kingdom of the Blind,” Penny’s 14th in the Canadian crime chronicles of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, she delivers a riveting package. She opens with Gamache, the now-suspended head of Quebec’s domestic security, arriving at a remote, derelict farmhouse after receiving a mysterious letter summoning him to help settle a will. He has no idea who the deceased is or why he’s been chosen as executor of a shabby estate.
The dying wishes of a delusional baroness unfold (and a murder quickly follows), but this subplot takes a back seat to Gamache’s real torment as he takes on the most serious challenge of his career. In the previous book, the shrewd inspector busted a ruthless drug cartel only to see the most lethal of its toxins — a shipment of carfentanil, 5,000 times more potent than heroin — slip by, and it’s now headed for the back alleys of Montreal.
Stung by his failure, Gamache realizes his job is on the line. He is forced to fire a promising protégée, a recovering addict who was on a clean path until the cartel case. Now she’s high, disgraced and angry, out on the streets, and Gamache is using her as bait in a desperate search for the killer opioids.
We see the seediest side of Montreal, but it’s tempered by the drama of the baroness’ will and the warm and quirky characters in Three Pines, the serene town where the Gamaches live.
Penny infuses her stories with literature, art, humor, compassion and the constant struggle between morality and sin. Her stories are so much more than a plot — they are a profound introspection.
Daughters of the Lake
By Wendy Webb. (Lake Union Publishing, 339 pages, $24.95.)
Minneapolis author Wendy Webb develops several intriguing and lasting characters in her latest Northern Gothic mystery, but nothing is as central to the plot as the roiling waters of Lake Superior.
“Daughters of the Lake” splits readers’ attentions between a turn-of-the-century romance and present day, where Kate Granger has taken refuge on the great lake after a failed marriage. Kate has long been troubled by dreams — visions of early times and people she’s never known. She shares these visions with other women in her lineage, branded in earlier generations as witches or seers.
Kate barely has time to unpack her bags before the body of a murdered young mother washes up from the mystical lake, a macabre sight in a flowing vintage gown, an infant cradled in the folds of her dress. It’s as if the two perfect bodies have been frozen in time until Kate’s unhappiness somehow summoned the icy lake to give them up.
This mother is a woman of Kate’s most intimate dreams, and with the help of her colorful cousin Simon, proprietor of a family mansion where Kate takes up refuge, she soon learns that secrets indeed cross through time in search of truth and justice.
In the course of the investigation, Kate meets handsome detective Nick Stone (Gothic romance, remember?). With Nick working on the case’s facts and Kate’s visions ferrying her into the buried secrets of the past, the two work together to solve the mystery of a 1900s romance that went tragically awry.
“Daughters of the Lake” is gothic to its core, a story of ghostly revenge, of wronged parties setting history right.