Ask anyone who has tried: creating a character that can remain convincing and convincing for the whole novel is difficult. Maintaining that achievement with the same character for several novels is a completely higher order. But that's what Louise Penny has been doing since 2005 with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of Sûreté du Québec and inhabitants of the East Township hamlet. Three fictional Pines. Kingdom of the Blind (Minotaur, 400 pages, $ 35.99) is the 14th Gamache novel, and maybe even the best.
The genre genre fiction writer goes well. For readers, familiarity is a big part of attractiveness: they can buy the latest installments safely in the knowledge that they enter a world with well-defined parameters. The trick is to keep familiar from playing memorization.
"The danger with the series is to write the same book over and over again because of an error," said Penny, who fought heavy traffic into the city from his home in Knowlton for the appearance of Salon du Livre last weekend. "It's important to change it and see character growth, and that can only happen by placing them in different situations."
Kingdom of the Blind did that, improving the narrative flow that began two books ago with A Great Reckoning in 2016, which was set at a time when opioids were experiencing the transition from social outbreaks under the radar to a major outbreak.
"You don't have to be a smart person to see where everything is headed," Penny said. "I want to explore it. I have some of my own background in addiction and these issues (Penny is a recovering alcoholic), and I also want to have yin and yang: Three beautiful Pines, and what happens in inner cities, or where even when opioids start hitting. How do you fight that? With courtesy? Or with indecency? That is the struggle of Gamache. Because it is clear the traditional way the police have not done what they need to do. And the consequences are terrible. "
Gamache's struggle becomes increasingly evident to the reader with the fact that, like the people around him, he is allowed to grow up in books, in more or less real time.
"He actually didn't age as fast as I did," said Penny, 60, laughing. "He started in his mid-50s and he had crawled up. He is not as (physically) agile as he is, nor does he have to try. Its excitement comes from seeing things that come, from being wise. He is a turtle for rabbits. "
Far from the basic pattern of lone-wolf police who can use anonymity as an investigative tool, Gamache is very much a public figure, TV news often appears and media voices are familiar to all except the quietest Quebec. In an age driven by image, he effectively became a celebrity.
"Yes, but it's not something I've been looking for," Penny said. "I was somewhat inspired (to make it) by Roméo Dallaire, who also never looked for the spotlight. He has something he needs to say, and for him all attention is a necessary crime. "
In the depraved realm of literary police, Gamache is increasingly characterized by its stability on the domestic front: a happy, loving marriage. He has more in common with the work of John Farrow's Cinq-Mars compared to Bous's Ian Rankin.
"I have met many police, including some who have risen to a certain level, and they have not reached that level by being alcoholics and drug addicts and beating their wives and fighting themselves," Penny said. "You have to be much more disciplined and focused. It is important for me to have the main character which is the center of morality where many other things happen. "
The further thickening of the current plot is that Gamache found himself in professional disgrace, after falling from his position at the top of the pyramid S toreté became under suspension because of his very unorthodox approach to the opioid crisis. And the prospect of recovery doesn't look good.
"I want to examine how decent people can fall from the pillars they wear, and how Gamache himself reacts to that. In this particular case, Gamache not only felt embarrassed, he thought of doing something terrible that the person he trusted and who knew him well begged him not to do it. He was in a situation where he almost had to do it. That is the idea of a greater tyranny of kindness. "
Like others who deal with extreme human crimes and irregularities, Gamache lives in the form of PTSD, and that is not a one-case condition with easy repairs. Instead, it has been built for his entire career, and you feel that it is a piece.
"We like to think we can box and lock things, but it's foolishness," Penny said. "Gamache's worldview is that we live in what is figuratively a longhouse, and that every person we meet, each of our minds lives with us there, and we need to reach an agreement with that, to make peace with whatever is there with us. He struggled with it because of what he had given in his life. "
The optimism championed by Gamache often places him in a philosophical dispute with his son-in-law and fellow police officer Jean-Guy Beauvoir, a figure who can support a series of his own works.
"Jean-Guy's conviction is that if you see enough in being a good person, you will find something bad, something bad," Penny said. "Gamache is the opposite – look enough to be a bad person and you will find a good one. It is based on the belief that the hearts of most people are worthy. But it is a belief that can bite you in the buttocks. "
At the level of his novel-year job, Penny found time to read his contemporaries, and guided aspiring crime writers. He is optimistic about the health conditions of his genre, and on his worthiness from a place on the literary stage.
"I think we are in a real resurrection now, not only in Canada but throughout the world. The breadth and depth – traditional, noir, police procedures – and writing level … are very high. I was very frustrated when people put up walls and created ghetto genre, and when people said they only read genres like that. When writing is good, it is all literary fiction. "
Although very happy with his extraordinary international popularity – he has been translated into 26 languages, and ranks No. 1 best as if they were not a big problem – native Toronto citizens expressed greater pride in being accepted as non-Quebec who had internalized and carried out justice to the Quebec environment.
"The main character is the francophone, and many others are Québécois. I am not, of course. But my neighbor, my friends, francophone readers – they seem very open to it. "
So, while Inspector Gamache might show certain signs of personal wear, he is not at all tired as a character, and Penny is far from finished with him. The measure he valued for his creation was the way he talked about him as if he were a blood-and-blood friend.
"There is no element that I find tiring," he said. "It develops, it changes, and sometimes in ways that might disappoint the reader. In fiction like in life. We cannot do the right thing all the time. Sometimes it's about doing the wrong thing and then having humility to recognize it. Or beaten by a frying pan to admit it. "
AT A GLANCE
Blind Kingdom scheduled for release on Tuesday, November 27.