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Buried by Snow or Stuffed in a Suitcase: The Bodies Add Up in Marilyn Stasio’s Latest Crime Column

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

The pretty Canadian village of Three Pines is slumbering peacefully through the “long, long, dark, dark, Québec winter” in Louise Penny’s latest mystery, KINGDOM OF THE BLIND (Minotaur, $28.99), when it is suddenly hit by a blizzard. The temperature drops to a chilling minus 35 degrees, snow blankets the village green and neighbors trudge through the towering drifts to warm themselves by the fireside at the local inn. But while the setting is entrancing, everyone knows that, “in the countryside, winter was a gorgeous, glorious, luminous killer.” And to prove that point, an old farmhouse collapses under the snow, trapping someone inside.

Luckily, Armand Gamache, chief superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, is on the scene to deliver comfort and establish order. “He relied on, and trusted, both his rational mind and his instincts,” Penny says of her avuncular detective, who is surely one of the most endearing specimens of his kind. But there is no shortage of appealing characters in this series, from Ruth Zardo, an aged and delightfully rude poet and her equally foulmouthed pet duck, to Bertha, the cleaning woman, who may very well be the titled baroness she calls herself. Typical of this author, the core mystery is a delicate matter and rather sad, something that draws the villagers closer together instead of tearing them apart.

When Penny wants to darken the story, she shifts the action from the pristine village of Three Pines to inner-city Montreal, where the streets are vile. “Never safe. Never clean. … Darker, filthier. Clogged with excrement, puke.” Here, she picks up a grittier subplot involving a young cadet who’s on the verge of being expelled from the Sûreté Academy. Should the girl have been admitted in the first place? Gamache pointedly asks the academy’s commander. “A stoned former prostitute junkie who’s dealing opioids in the academy?” he responds. “Are you kidding? She’s a delight.” Not a delight, exactly, but another outstanding — and completely unexpected — character in a constantly surprising series that deepens and darkens as it evolves.

Arthur Bryant has written his memoirs — and a jolly good yarn they make, too. In BRYANT & MAY: HALL OF MIRRORS (Bantam, $27), Christopher Fowler transports crotchety Bryant and his suave sleuthing partner, John May, back to the 1960s, when those two old dears were mere youngsters, just starting out in the hippy-dippy days of “Swinging London.” (“This is so groovy!” May observes of a colorful Canal Carnival in Camden Town.)

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