It’s a heady time, indeed, to be a fan of Louise Penny’s series of Armand Gamache novels – a new installment in the series (“A World of Curiosities,” released last November), a television adaptation of the series (“Three Pines,” which debuted on Amazon Prime in December), and a tribute to the books in the form of Ernesto Cervini’s latest album, “Joy,” which dropped last fall.
The latest novel places a new mystery in the context of an old one. A mysterious painting appears – magically? – in Three Pines and deciphering the puzzle in turn opens up questions about one of the first cases on which Gamache and his long-time associate (now son-in-law) Jean-Guy Beauvoir collaborated. In the course of the narrative, Penny explores the extent to which intuition can be trusted, especially by those who (like Gamache and Beauvoir) depend on intuition to succeed and even to survive. How do we discern when to trust that instinct and when it needs careful evaluation? How do our emotions impact our judgment?
I read a comment recently by someone who considers Penny’s books to be ‘cozy’ mysteries. Purely on their surface, the stories’ location in a small, charming, even idyllic (if you discount the high percentage of deaths and murders, of course) village might lead you to that conclusion. But they have always been more than that: a deep dive into what makes us human, what drives us, what causes us to love and laugh and cry and fail, and what connects us to others. “A World of Curiosities” is no exception to that.
As for the television adaptation (on Amazon Prime), I’ve often found that if one expects a TV or movie version to be a carbon copy of the books, one will always be disappointed. And truthfully, we each have a unique picture in our head of the characters, places, and plots of a novel – that’s what makes reading such an addictive enterprise. “Three Pines,” which adapts three novels and one novella from the book series, makes no attempt to slavishly copy the novels. Rather, I would say its goal is to capture the spirit of the books and the characters – and it does it quite well. The casting of Alfred Molina, in particular, is letter perfect – he conveys so much of what I at least have seen as the inner compassion and goodness that characterize Armand Gamache in the books.
The incorporation of a storyline about missing Indigenous women (which does in fact reference a backstory in the novels that becomes a crucial part of the overarching plot in the middle of the book series) is also, I think, hugely true to the spirit of the books – the willingness to bare difficult truths about ourselves and how our culture treats others.
Finally – since this is, after all, primarily a music site – the release of Ernesto Cervini’s latest project, “Joy,” was a welcome prelude (coincidentally, perhaps, but nevertheless) to the new book and the television show. Produced by Cervini and his sister Amy (who we have previously featured here on GDW), the album features fifteen tracks inspired by the Gamache novels. And truly, what a perfect canvas for Cervini’s creativity: as I listen to the album, I can see the characters and places that inspired the pieces. Cervini clearly has deeply, repeatedly read the books, and they’ve come alive in his songwriting.
Cervini has also incorporated vocals (something relatively new to his work); singers Felicity Williams, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Amy Cervini, and Alex Samaras all contribute to the project. Samaras’ vocals on “The Beautiful Mystery” in particular are critical to the track if you’ve read the novel (since its plot hinges in large part on vocal music) – yet another small, but crucial touch that keeps the album true to the heart of the books.
The final track, “I’m FINE” (FINE, for those who haven’t yet read the novels, stands for F**cked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical), wraps up the album in a beautiful, perfect bow – joyful in a reserved way that acknowledges most humans are both fine and FINE.
Even if you haven’t read the novels, “Joy” will be a superb addition to your music collection. But once Cervini introduces you to the fabulous world that is Three Pines, why not take the next steps and read the novels (start from the beginning: this is important) and then explore the television series. You absolutely won’t be sorry.