First up, The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny.
This is the third book in Louise Penny's 'Inspector Gamache' series. It's set, as are the others, in the fictional village of Three Pines which is in the forests of Southern Quebec.
Some of the inhabitants of the village are holding a seance in the local bistro. When nothing much happens someone suggests they hold one in the old Hadley house, on the hill, the scene of murders and traumatic events in previous books. During the second seance a woman dies of fright. Inspector Gamache and his team are called in and it's discovered that the woman had an abnormal amount of ephedra in her system, a herb used in the making of slimming pills. But she was not, and never had been, a slimmer. It seems she was murdered. Added to this investigation, Gamache still has troubles of his own involving his branch of the Canadian police, the Sureté. Several years ago he was closely involved in the bringing down of a rogue policeman and now that officer's friends are out to get Gamache. Someone in his own team is betraying him and he needs to find out who, while at the same time solve the mystery at Three Pines.
This book would have made a perfect read this year's Halloween challenge. It was creepy and atmospheric and as good as many actual ghost stories. It's hard to overstate how much I enjoy this series. Louise Penny is such a good writer and has created a detective in Gamache who is likeable, worthy of respect, and clever. The setting too is just perfect. Three Pines, surrounded as it is by the northern forests, sounds like heaven and is inhabited by normal characters with flaws and idiosyncrasies just like the rest of us. Not all are likeable by any means, often acting in a selfish manner or doing things that are questionable. I've also enjoyed the background mystery of Gamache's problems at the Sureté. That was sort of solved in this book, but the reader gets the impression that the problem is actually far from over. Anyway, a superb read, and I already have the next book on my library pile, The Murder Stone.
My second book is The Snack Thief and it's by Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri.
I'm cheating with this one and pinching the synopsis from the FantasticFiction website. I don't normally do this but it's several weeks since I read it (before Not So Quiet in fact) and the details have really blurred in my middle-aged brain.
In the third book in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series, the urbane and perceptive Sicilian detective exposes a viper's nest of government corruption and international intrigue in a compelling new case. When an elderly man is stabbed to death in an elevator and a crewman on an Italian fishing trawler is machine-gunned by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast, only Montalbano suspects the link between the two incidents. His investigation leads to the beautiful Karima, an impoverished housecleaner and sometime prostitute, whose young son steals other schoolchildren's midmorning snacks. But Karima disappears, and the young snack thief's life - as well as Montalbano's - is on the line...
Yes, well, the whole thing got a bit confusing to be honest. What with disappearances, murders and the government intrigue... in end I couldn't remember who was doing what, to whom, and why... My fault, I think, for not paying proper attention. The big problem for me is that I really dislike Camilleri's detective, Inspector Montalbano. He's arrogant, sneaky, selfish, treats his girlfriend like a doormat and, in this book, is jealous of her relationship with the young boy whose mother has disappeared. I wanted to smack him quite frankly (the inspector not the boy).
I feel I've given this series a good go. Three books is not a bad innings and there are too many books I want to read for me to be wasting time on a series I don't really care for.
To be honest, I like the fact that I seem to be finding my niche where crime books are concerned. There are those that I can't seem to get into - the Maisie Dobbs books for instance, these Inspector Montalbano books, Agatha Raisin (not enough depth in the writing for my taste), and I don't think Agatha Christie is going to be my thing either. On the other hand I thoroughly enjoy Martin Edwards, Susan Hill, Barbara Vine, Louise Penny, Peter Lovesey, and a whole clutch of historical crime authors such as C.J Sansom, Laurie R. King, Ariana Franklin, Elizabeth Peters and Anne Perry. I'm not sure what the connection between these authors is but there must be one somewhere. Just something about them that hits the right note I suppose. Each to his (or her) own.