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Grimoire: ‘A World of Curiosities’ is a Tale of Misogyny, Violence, Terror and Redemption

Grimoire: ‘A World of Curiosities’ is a Tale of Misogyny, Violence, Terror and Redemption

  • 18th in Chief Inspector Gamache series, with its clever, layered character building of the suspects, red-herrings and bystanders, has left me spellbound.

I enjoyed reading the 18th book in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series “A World of Curiosities.” It is addictive as all her books and written from a very special place. It appears that Penny was on a self-imposed writing pause but her characters who are now larger than life prompted her to connect loose ends in the chief inspector’s past and link this lyrical narrative to one of the most heinous tragedies in Canadian history: the Montreal Massacre.

On December 6, 1989, a man with a semi-automatic rifle went into a packed classroom at the Polytechnique engineering school, separated the 50 or so men from the women, and told the men to leave. He then went on a shooting spree, killing all the women he could find. This shooter had a vendetta against smart, educated and independent women. Louise Penny unpacks the hundreds of years-old violence against women through the metaphor of a “grimoire”!

I had never heard of this term before, but it was used in reference to journals of women who were natural healers. These women who used herbs to cure illnesses were called witches and were killed. Even Anne Lamarque, the founder of Three Pines, was accused of witchcraft.

Today, women cannot make their own medical decisions. Their protests are deemed against religious norms. The author uses her quill to make us aware that civilized society is not as civilized as we think. A pushback against bad gun laws and normalization of misogyny against women, transgenders and other ethnicities.

I was in Palm Springs last week at a conference but in between sessions and sightseeing, I just could not put the book down.

In the mystery “A World of Curiosities,” Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir meet over a murder of a strange woman whose body is found in a lake. The investigation leads to the deceased woman’s children who have been abused for a long time. The descriptions of violence are gruesome. Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie support the traumatized young girl to graduate from the Polytechnique and serve as her local guardian. Her brother Sam is put in foster care.

A few years down the road, the girl and boy make their way to the village of Three Pines. Their presence brings a turn of events. finds that someone has been in his house and touched his things. Moved them an inch or two. Slightly. Just to send him a “creepy” warning signal.

Then Myrna, the bookstore owner and retired psychologist finds a secret room in her attic, and several odds and ends are discovered including a replica of a well-known large painting. The Paston Treasure.

As I am interested in art, I gobbled up the details of this rare historical “still-life” oil painting, commissioned by either Sir Robert Paston or his father Sir William Paston in the early 1670s.

It depicts a small fraction of the Paston family’s collected treasures. It was executed by an unknown Dutch artist who stayed with them. The importance of The Paston Treasure lies in the international scope and interest of the objects portrayed when the wealthy started traveling from Europe to Asia and Africa.

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Then other crimes start to surface. Break-ins, sudden unexplained deaths and letters from the past surface. Who was behind this? Was it one person or was it a group of people? How did the large painting get into the small walled-off space. Why were the objects and people in the painting slightly different? Penny picks up the pace of a slow backstory by piling on many clever twists and turns that leaves the reader on an edge with unbridled terror.

I was in Palm Springs last week at a conference but in between sessions and sightseeing, I just could not put the book down. The clever, layered character-building of the suspects, red herrings and bystanders in this sordid saga left me spellbound. I could literally feel the tension rise in me as Gamache is at his wit’s end. Even I wondered if he did the right thing in giving two condemned women (the murder suspect and the daughter of the man who hit his parents’ car: Amelia Choquet) a second chance?

Perhaps by showing his vulnerability, he has let a psychopath peer into his mind and that the killer might be really close to him. I was very afraid for Chief Inspector Gamache and his family. Every reader would be.

After the fact, the book made me reflect on several pieces of universal human wisdom/Vedic teachings that my parents lived by. The teachings that Penny, Gamache and the citizens of Three Pines live by. Forgiveness is the best form of revenge. The law of karma. Sooner or later, you reap what you sow. An insider does the maximum damage.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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