Louise Penny has taken the mystery to a higher level in this, her latest Three Pines novel. I was totally drawn into the story from the beginning, only putting the book down to eat and sleep during the twenty-four hour period that it took to reach the satisfying conclusion. The book begins with Armand Gamache, the Chief Superintendent of the Surete de Quebec (a post he had previously turned down twice) testifying in court as a witness for the prosecution in a murder case. The story is told back and forth in time, between the trial and the events that led to the defendant’s arrest. The case against the defendant in the courtroom scenes slowly reveal the evidence indicating culpability and gives the reader a perspective similar to that of the jury. The scenes describing the events prior to the trial lead the reader eventually to the conclusion that there is something else at play here, that elements of the two vantage points don’t mesh to form a clear picture. More information is needed. More than other mysteries I’ve read, I felt empowered here, to solve the mystery myself. Penny seemlessly revealed the facts, and the feelings of the characters, leading me to questions that I felt needed answering in order to figure the whole thing out.
One thing I love about Penny’s writing is how she illuminates themes, or character traits with excerpts from literature, or history. One of those quotes was from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, “I feel within me a peace above all earthly dignities, a still and quiet conscience.” Gamache illustrates a point he wants to make to his team at one point, by talking of Churchill and the German bombing of Coventry in World War II. I love when there are literary and historical allusions that I recognize, but I also love identifying those that I’m not sure about by googling to get more information.
When Gamache needs to think through something important, he frequently takes long walks around Three Pines, and usually ends up at a bench on a hill above the village. The bench is inscribed with the words, “Surprised by joy,” which I loved without knowing a context for the quote, but I figured there must be meaning in it, so a quick Google search revealed that Surprised by Joy is the title of C.S. Lewis’s (Clive Staples) autobiography that describes his journey through life as a Christian in his youth, an atheist in his middle years, and his return to Christianity as he tries to find joy later in his life. I’m not sure what that means relative to this particular story, or to the village of Three Pines in general, but I’ve added the book to my WTR (want to read) list.
Finally, the ending of the book was perfect: heartwarming and thoughtful, and produced such a warm feeling of well-being in me, that I forgot for a moment that our current state of affairs has an imminent launch of an ICBM missile by North Korea.
“But the tiny, achingly beautiful Magdalen Islands were the sweet spot.” This location was an important one in the ongoing investigation of the drug cartels by Gamache’s team. The photo below is the red cliffs made of red sandstone, a sedimentary rock made of quartz which is covered with iron oxide. Wind, waves, tides and thaw join forces to erode the extremely crumbly rock faces sculpting them into spectacular shapes.
image by lucyneatby.com/image/madeline.jpg
I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at a baguette for quite a while. My husband’s attempt years ago yielded what he refers to as “dough baseball bats.” So when the baguette played such an important role in this book, I had to give it a try.
Dan Leader’s 4-Hour Baguette
Makes 3 baguettes
Author Notes: This recipe is the aggressive, no-more-excuses shove that you need to start baking your own bread. It will only take you 4 hours of intermittent attention, and won’t require a starter nor any equipment you don’t already own — and it will rival your favorite bakery’s.
1½ C (12 ounces) tap water, heated to 115° F
1 tsp (⅛ ounce) active dry yeast
3¼ C (14⅔ ounces) all-purpose flour
3 tsp (⅜ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt (note: if using a fine-grained salt like table salt, fine sea salt or other brands of kosher salt, you will need to use a smaller volume)
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
½ C ice cubes
Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
Heat oven to 475° F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.
Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms). Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.
I am happy to report my baguettes were a raging success!