Guess what weapon Penny used this time to kill the victim? Fear!!! Sounds impossible? Not for Penny. She can do anything. Remember?
After reading the first two books from the list of Inspector Gamache books in order, I was bound to get the third one. And I have to admit. The Cruelest Month has exceeded all my expectations.
Boy! This book is a complete page-turner. From horror and suspense to love and betrayal, you will find everything in it. And if you think this is only a light murder mystery, you can’t be more wrong. This novel is more than that (No wonder it won the prestigious Agatha Award in 2008).
So, don’t miss out on The Cruelest Month summary and review. Trust me! This 5-minute read will make you pick up the book (Yes, the novel is good). Without wasting any more time, why don’t we jump right in?
The Cruelest Month: Three Pines Series Synopsis without Spoiler
Three Pines is celebrating yet another festival. This time, it is Easter, when dead people rise from deep sleep.
To make the festival more colorful (read dreadful), our Three Pines gang decides to arrange a Séance. And what Séance is complete without a psyche? So, the sweet gay couple, Gabri and Olivier, invite one to lead this horror party in the cursed Hadley house.
Everything is going well. The Séance is almost a success. And then there is a scream! One of the parties is scared to death.
How is it even possible? Can anyone die of fright?
Gamache is enjoying his vacation with his family, and the news comes. This natural death might not be so simple after all. Chances are, the party has been murdered.
Chief Inspector Gamache runs to Three Pines with his usual team to solve the mystery. But this time, the situation is different.
Someone has dug out Gamache’s past life and is trying to ruin his career. He can smell the moles in his team. Who can he really trust?
Gamache is at a loss. He has a murder to solve, and he must clear his name. Things seem tangled up! Yet Gamache knows that if he can win over this cruelest time, he can survive anything.
Will Gamache be able to establish justice in Three Pines once again? Who is murdered? Is it someone we know? Pick up the novel and solve the mystery yourself.
The Cruelest Month Summary (Spoilers Alert)
Stop right here if you plan to read the book in the future. Otherwise, the fun will be ruined.
Sure thing. It is not easy to sum up the 320 pages where each scene carries a secret or maybe a link to the murder mystery. Yet, I have tried.
The Victim Is Scared to Death! Literally!
It’s almost spring. Three Pines is prepared with their painted wooden eggs to celebrate Easter. But all festivals demand some extra craziness. Right?
So, the Three Pines gang decides to arrange a Séance. If you don’t know, Séance is a way to talk to dead people (Don’t roll your eyes. I am not forcing you to believe it).
Like you, everyone in Three Pines has taken the Séance as fun. I mean, you can not really telephone the dead. Right? Right??
On Friday night, everyone (well, not everyone) comes to the B&B for this special occasion. And surprise. We have a guest, Jeanne Chauvet, the psyche, who will do the honor of calling the dead souls.
As usual, the Séance begins, but nothing happens. Jeanne blames the bistro. She says this place is filled with positive energy. They should go to someplace scary. Otherwise, there is no point in this Séance.
Come on! What could be better than the Old Hadley House? That place is scary as hell.
It is a done deal. They are arranging a second Séance on Sunday at Old Hadley House after the dinner at Clara’s.
I must say. The second Séance has attracted more eyes. Look at the number of participants. We have many new faces this time.
But the moment they enter the house, they all start regretting it. This place looks dark and haunted even without the Séance. However, it is too late to step back. The rituals start, and all of a sudden, Madeleine starts acting weird.
A dead spirit might have entered Madeleine. Wait no! Madeleine is not breathing. She is the dead spirit now.
Meanwhile, Gamache Is in Deep Water
Remember the Arnot case? We finally get to know what happened.
I will give you the gist. Gamache got his superior officer, Arnot, arrested for a heinous crime. Apparently, the Sûreté officers wear a pride of loyalty and unity. With Gamache’s allegation, their reputation was burnt to the ground.
Gamache became the name in the Sûreté. Now, many in power are trying to drag him down. They keep bringing false evidence to prove him as a corrupt officer.
Do you know who is leading these people? Brebeuf, Gamache’s best friend. And he has planted moles into the team.
Gamache returns to Three Pines with his team, Beauvoir, Lacoste, Lemieux, and Nichol. Yes, guys. The irritating Nichol is back in the game, and she is more annoying this time. Rumors are she and Lemieux are the moles of Brebeuf.
This anti-Gamache team is doing its best to bring the spotlight on the star Inspector and distract him from the case. The allegations are severe, and the Three Pines now thinks he might be guilty of charges.
But Gamache cannot afford to give a damn! He has cases to solve.
Aggh! How Could Everyone Love The Same Person?
The entire Three Pines are mourning. Sure, Madeleine came here a few years back. But in this short duration, she had impressed everyone.
Apparently, Madeleine had a charm. She could make everyone fall in love. Take Gilles, the tree lover, as an example. This nutcase was in unconditional love with this lady but never admitted it.
The elderly Monsieur Beliveau was also in love with Madeleine. Maybe Madeleine had affection for this old man, too. Who knows?
Then comes Hazel, Madeleine’s best friend in school. Hazel is a dedicated soul in Three Pines. What did you say? Do you need help? Relax and sit back. Hazel is there to take care of you.
Hazel is a single parent. So, when Madeleine came to live with her, she saw no problem.
Eventually, Hazel fell for Madeleine. She didn’t have a physical attraction to her best friend. But she could feel there was a soul connection.
Nope. The Madeleine-lover list is not finished yet.
Here comes Sophie, Hazel’s daughter. This young lady was also in love with Madeleine. She had done everything to impress Madeleine. But soon, she realized Madeleine was not interested.
You know, even Clara said she was in love with Madeleine. Of course, not in a lesbian way. But you got it, right?
Madeleine Died of Fright. But…
Well, for everyone, Madeleine’s death was natural. But the postmortem reports show something opposite. They have found Ephedra, a diet pill content, in Madeleine’s blood.
But what was she doing with Ephedra pills? She was not overweight.
The coroner confirms that Madeleine had breast cancer and was on chemo. This led to a heart condition.
A high dose of Ephedra, a weak heart, and a frightful scene killed Madeleine!
Who could have murdered Madeleine with such subtle planning? Didn’t everyone love her?
The Suspect List Is Even Longer
Of course, this is new to Gamache. How can someone be scared to death? But if it is a murder, someone insider has done it. This is his experience talking.
But who could that be?
He knows one thing for sure. That murder was to be present in the Séance. He is after the basic questions now.
Why is there a second Séance? Who was present? And why Ephedra?
Jeanne’s shady character makes her suspect number one. She is the one who asked for a scary place. On top of that, she is a Wiccan. She must be investigated.
Who else? Let’s see.
Gilles and Odile also make it to the suspect’s list. Gilles could never have her, and seeing her with Monsieur Beliveau was always a pain. People kill in love, you know? The same law applies to Odile, too. She is in love with Gilles, and she can not stand Madeleine.
And what is the matter with Monsieur Beliveau? First, his wife died, then his tree, and now Madeleine? He seems to attract death.
One picture of Hazel’s house catches everyone’s attention. Sophie was huge even a few years back. And now look at her, slim and attractive. Could she be the user of Ephedra? It’s definitely her. The police found old pills in her house.
She tried to impress Madeleine at first. But then she figured out Madeleine could never be hers. Hazel, her mom, would always be the priority. And now? Monsieur Beliveau? She might have got upset and killed Madeleine.
But wait! It’s Gamache’s turn to unveil the murderer. He never misses details, you know?
First, Let’s See Progress on Gamache. How’s Our Buddy Doing?
Gamache is literally hurt by the attack on his family. But you can not break this man. He is still dedicated to solving this case.
Beauvoir and Lacoste are on team Gamache. Nichol has been acting super annoying. She clearly wants to sink this investigation for whatever reasons. And Agent Lemieux? He is so blind to power that he even tries to kill Gamache.
But that’s an entirely different story. Everything gets sorted out in the end as Gamache identifies the puppet master. It turns out that Agent Nichol was always on Team Gamache anyway. She was just acting to reveal the main culprit in the team (That would be Lemieux). Smart huh?
Can You Return to The Murderer?
Anyway, Gamache invites everyone to the old Hadley House. He says he has the name of the murderer.
He addresses all the suspects one by one.
Jeanne Chauvet, the Wiccan, is carrying a big secret. She was a friend of Madeleine and Hazel from school. Everyone used to bully her because of her psychic things.
So she sacrificed everything to fit in, to become friends with Madeleine, the most popular girl on the campus. But this arrangement didn’t last long.
When Jeanne came to Three Pines, she finally felt at home. She saw Madeleine and recognized her instantly. But Madeleine didn’t even look back at her.
Yes, she makes a good suspect. But she is not the killer.
Sophie is second on the list. Gamache made one mistake. He thought Ephedra was a pill. But the strains found on Madeleine were raw and in a more natural form. So, Sophie’s hatred or love for Madeleine didn’t call for the murder.
Where can we find raw Ephedra in Three Pines? Apparently, our odd couple Odile and Gilles have the stock. However, it turns out that they are not the killers.
Who’s left? No one from the suspect list. It is Hazel.
Don’t be so surprised. Hazel did love Madeleine. But she was also fed up with her charming nature. In school life, Madeleine stole her thunder.
Now Madeleine had just come out of thin air in Three Pines and made everyone fall in love. Hazel could feel the cycle repeating. Again!!! How could she let that happen?
Madeleine’s condition was no secret to Hazel. She knew about the heart disease, too. She intentionally slipped Ephedra into Madeleine’s meal at Clara’s dinner party.
Later, at the Séance, Madeleine’s heart could not deal with the backlash of Ephedra and the fright. And she died!
No one expects such a betrayal from his friends. But only if Hazel knew that Madeleine was drying anyway. She only had a few months left.
Yes, Hazel. You have killed someone who was counting her last breaths.
What’s My Opinion on Louise Penny The Cruelest Month
Gosh! I have a lot to say!
In my last post, I bashed Penny for selecting such a cheap book cover. Thankfully, she didn’t make the same mistake with The Cruelest Month. The minimal design gives us a vague idea of the book material. Yes, Easter celebration.
As for the writing style, Penny narrates the story in a simple yet gripping language. It is neither poetic nor cliche but fits in the middle. I love how meticulously Penny describes every little detail; you can almost see yourself in the situation. Her delivery tone and narration tone remind me of Agatha Christie.
Moving to the plot, Penny has brought some minor changes to her storytelling. I could smell it.
But with The Cruelest Life, she dragged the plot in a good way. She gave readers enough time to soak in the life of Three Pines and get a context of what’s going on.
For instance, Madeleine and Monsieur Beliveau are in a good relationship. Hezel is a kind soul. Odile and Gilles can not stand Madeleine. And Jeanne Chauvet is a witch (Wiccan). She has explained them all in the first few chapters.
Coming up with a Séance-murder was definitely brilliant and unique. I found both the Séance very scary. But of course, the second one was more uncomfortable because of the location, the old Hadley House. I am 200% sure that this property is cursed.
The death came to me as a shock. For a long time, Penny didn’t reveal the victim’s name. I was worried sick about our old Three Pines gang. So, I was relieved when I learned Madeleine was the one who got killed.
This book is definitely an upgrade from the previous ones. When the Séance madness started, I thought Penny had switched to the horror genre. But no! She was just setting up the plot for a perfect murder mystery.
Additionally, Penny has gamed up on character building. In Still Life, Myrna stole some attention. This time, Penny has worked on Ruth. I can clearly see now where her inspiration comes from.
Oh! We have another Poet, Odile, in the house now. At first, I thought her poems were trash. But I really liked the last ones.
The ending of The Cruelest Month was better than the previous books. Gamache had pulled off the entire thing single-handedly. My favorite scene would be the surprise from Agent Nichol. I will never forget that.
As I said, I enjoyed The Cruelest Month. However, I have only one complaint. The book has constantly made me hungry. Who describes food in such detail? Stop teasing us, Penny! We are discussing a murder.
The Cruelest Month Characters That Stand Out
Penny has come up with some mesmerizing characters with The Cruelest Month. No, seriously! I haven’t seen such strong character development in a long time.
You will find many new faces in this novel. But they don’t feel like strangers. Thanks to Penny. She has given each character just the time and attention necessary.
Let me introduce you to the stars of this novel.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache
To be very honest, Gamache was more like a disappointment in Still Life and A Fatal Grace. He was nothing but a side character. It is frustrating, considering the entire series is dedicated to his name.
But finally, he is back.
Now Gamache is acting like the star Inspector we deserve. Thank God that Penny has found the voice of this character.
We already know so much about Gamache from the previous books. He is a man with flaws but carries immense integrity. The Cruelest Month was a test of his moral compass, and he passed.
Our Inspector Cool did a fantastic job solving the murder mystery. With the suspense he had revealed, the killer was on point. After reading this novel, I think I have become a fan of Gamache.
Jean-Guy Beauvoir & Agent Nichol
Well, Jean-Guy is a good boy. He has always said that he is on Team Gamache. But with this novel, he has proven his loyalty. The father-son-like relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir is sweet and overwhelming.
Moving to Agent Nichol, she has turned the tables in this novel. I used to hate this character from the first book. She is annoying and always hurting people. Nichol truly doesn’t fit anywhere.
But I am happy to announce that I was wrong. Gamache has kept this gem hidden for a long time. If it were not for Nichol, Gamache would be dead by now.
Clara & Peter
These two characters took a backseat in this novel. I was expecting some contribution from Clara in solving the murder as she was the star of Still Life. But nothing. The only noticeable thing Clara and Peter did was to arrange parties.
Penny has tried to highlight Peter’s jealous side with this book. Man! He really is insecure. I guess Penny has plans to use Peter as a plot breaker in the upcoming novels.
Who Else Do We Have?
As mentioned, The Cruelest Month has many new faces: Odile, Gilles, Jeanne Chauvet, Monsieur Beliveau, Sophie, Hazel, and Madeleine. Each one of them has a strong and individual personality. I have been impressed with Gilles. There are not too many people we see who can talk to trees, after all.
To really know-know the other characters, pick up The Cruelest Month and read. Come on! Don’t be a lazy ass.
Should You Read The Cruelest Month?
If you are a fan of the mystery genre, not reading The Cruelest Month will be a crime. I mean it. This is the best book of the Gamache series by far (at least in my view).
Penny has stuffed the pages with suspense, mystery, and secrets. You will feel a surge of emotions throughout the novel. Our author has kept the book as cozy and light as possible. But she has also addressed the darker sides of human relationships without shying away. To me, this novel is flawless and worth a try.
Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous books of the Gamache series. You can start from The Cruelest Month, as there is barely any link between the plots. However, I think you will be able to enjoy the story more if you start from book #1. This makes you feel more attached to the characters.
You can check the summaries of Still Life and A Fatal Grace from my previous posts. Other book suggestions are also available on our website.