Kingdom of the Blind is Louise Penny’s fourteenth mystery set in Three Pines. It is the book Penny almost did not write. In “Acknowledgments” found at the end of Kingdom of the Blind, Penny tells readers that after her husband’s death, she did not think she could continue writing the Gamache series. Michael was the inspiration for the series and always her first reader. Penny was ready to return the advance to the publishers and end her writing career. Or so she thought.
Luckily for the passionate readers of the Armand Gamache series, Penny one day found herself sitting in front of the computer and typing the following: “Armand Gamache.” She followed up with “slowed his car to a crawl.” Kingdom of the Blind was underway and Armand Gamache, his family, colleagues, and friends continue their lives.
On her Web site, http://www.louisepenny.com/, Penny points out that “my books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.
If you take only one thing away from any of my books, I’d like it to be this:
And that’s what we find in all of the fourteen books: Goodness does exist. Many fictional police detectives and PIs are deeply flawed characters. Extremely intelligent, they can figure out puzzles and put pieces together to solve terrible crimes. They often have difficulties forming permanent, strong relationships with other people, however, even their colleagues. They push themselves beyond ordinary endurance and are workaholics, rarely leaving the job behind.
While Armand Gamache exhibits all the intelligence and strength of those other fictional detectives, he also adds another important characteristic: real humanity and love. He works continually on a case, but he does not ignore family, friends, and colleagues in the process. He keeps his own counsel, but he is warm and loving to those around him. He is compassionate and kind. He exhibits goodness in the face of terrible evil.
Readers will remember that at the end of Glass Houses, Gamache made a fateful decision to allow a load of drugs to slip away. That was a purposeful decision in order to stop the larger manufacturing of the lethal opioids and ultimately save lives. The powers-that-be above Gamache do not see the big picture, however, and blame him for allowing the dangerous opioids to slip away. As a result, Gamache is on suspension in Kingdom of the Blind, but that does not stop him from being part of the investigation to locate the drugs and the manufacturing plant as well.
To complicate matters, Gamache, Myrna Landers, his long-time friend and neighbor in Three Pines, and Benedict Pouliot, a young man unknown to the others, all receive a letter from Maitre Laurence Mercier. Mercier asks that the three meet him at a remote farmhouse on a particular day and time. The invitation contains no other information. Out of curiosity, the three show up despite the winter snow and threat of additional snow.
When the three meet Mercier, they learn they are to be executors of Bertha Baumgartner’s will. All three claim never to have known Baumgartner. Myrna then remembers Baumgartner was a cleaner who had worked some in Three Pines for people. She called herself Baroness.
Penny delights her readers with this dual storyline of the strange will and even stranger choice of executors along with the search for the opioids and the opportunity to stop the dangerous drugs altogether.
Dangers abound on all sides from both storylines. Gamache must juggle the search for the opioids and discover the truth about Baumgartner. Secrets and lies from both stories keep the readers guessing. How much does one person know about another?
Through all the horror and the danger, Gamache remains a force for good and humanity. Gamache’s family life helps balance the horror on the streets.
Penny reminds readers that the themes of her books are “inspired by two lines from a poem by WH Auden, in his elegy to Melville. Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge/his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it.”
Do not fear that Kingdom of the Blind is the last story from Three Pines. Happily, Penny tells her readers: “Lots of people have written, worried that KINGDOM OF THE BLIND is the last in the series. It isn’t. I plan to write about Three Pines forever.”
While Penny’s fans do not need to be reminded, others who have not begun the series featuring Armand Gamache and his friends should know that Penny has won many awards. Kingdom of the Blind alone was an “instant #1 New York Times Bestseller, a December 2018 Indie Next Pick, BookPage Best of the Year 2018, a LibraryReads Pick for November 2018, Washington Post’s 10 Books to Read This November, and One of PopSugar’s Best Fall Books to Curl Up With.”