The ninth book in the Detective Armand Gamache series is a completely lovable installment. Gamache must locate a missing person with a false identity at the same time he has to survive the destruction of his stable of best assistants. Little by little Gamache’s superiors have transferred all the best detectives out of his unit and placed them in lackey jobs in the Montreal police department. More terrifying, still, is that Gamache’s right hand man and close confidante, Beauvoir has not only been taken away, but Beauvoir is addicted to painkillers and his mental health is deteriorating rapidly. A phone call arrives from one of Gamache’s friends in the tiny, off-the-grid community of Three Pines. An old woman who had planned to come for the Christmas holiday has failed to arrive. The combined mysteries of the missing person and the motive for who might be attempting to disable Gamache’s capacities to investigate are carefully and exquisitely plotted. Warm tea, comic relief, and old friends bustle about Three Pines and welcome you to get cozy while you, the reader, work with the Chief Inspector to solve his latest cases.
What an interesting idea. Mix together a memoir of family history in the old Soviet Union with some Soviet history and the signature foods of the USSR’s distinct eras: Tsarist Russia, Russian Revolution, Leninism, Stalisnism, Brezhnev, Glasnost, Putin. Then the author and her mother, both accomplished cooks, prepare feasts redolent of each decade since 1910 and invite Soviet emigres to reminisce about the smells of an pre-Stalin cornucopia or the despair of waiting on a 1970s bread line. Perhaps because the author’s mother tongue is Russian, there is a kind of reverse construction to sentences and chapters that makes the text thick as stew. The second paragraph of Chapter six, for example, “1960s: Corn, Communism, Caviar” opens with this sentence, “Coarse and damp was the bread waiting at the end of the line.” The three strands of the book — von Bremzen’s family history, the story of the rise and fall of the USSR, and foods of a century — are all palatable, but in the end the flavors don’t quite meld into one delicious dish.