Gripping and full of suspense, A Better Man is the spellbinding new crime thriller from New York Times number one bestseller, Louise Penny. Read on for an extract from the first chapter.
‘Tabernac. Someone from Serious Crimes just sent a link. Listen to this.’
The other agents in the conference room looked over as he read off his cell phone, ‘This is Armand Gamache’s first day back at the Sûreté du Québec after a suspension of nine months following a series of ill- advised and disastrous decisions.’
‘Disastrous? That’s bullshit,’ said one of the officers.
‘Well, it’s bullshit retweeted by hundreds.’
Other agents and inspectors scrambled for their phones, tapping away while glancing out the open door. To make sure . . .
It was eleven minutes to eight, and members of the homicide department were gathering for the regular Monday- morning meeting to discuss ongoing investigations.
Though there was very little ‘regular’ about this meeting. About this morning. The room was electric with anticipation. Now heightened even further by what was blowing up on their phones.
‘Merde,’ muttered an agent. ‘Having achieved the pinnacle of power as Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté,’ she read, ‘Gamache promptly abused it. Deliberately allowing catastrophic amounts of opioids onto the streets. After an investigation, he was demoted.’
‘They have no idea what they’re talking about. Still, that’s not too bad.’
‘It goes on. He should have been fired, at the very least. Probably put on trial and thrown in prison.’
‘That’s insane,’ said one of the senior officers, grabbing the phone and reading it for herself. ‘Who’s writing this crap? They don’t even mention he got the stuff back.’
‘Of course they don’t.’
‘I hope he doesn’t see it.’
‘Are you kidding? He’ll see it.’
The room fell silent, except for the soft clicking from each device. Like the sound of near- dead tree limbs in the breeze.
Words were muttered under their breaths as they read. Words their grandparents had considered sacred but were now profane. Tabernac. Calice. Hostie.
One senior officer put his head in his hands and massaged his temples. Then, dropping them, he reached for his phone. ‘I’m going to write a rebuttal.’
‘Don’t. Better if it comes from the leadership. Chief Superintendent Toussaint will set them straight.’
‘She hasn’t yet.’
‘She will. She trained under Gamache. She’ll defend him.’
Off in the far corner, one agent was staring at her phone, a deep line forming between her brows.
While the others were pale, she was flushed as she read not a text or tweet but an email.
Though in her mid- forties, Lysette Cloutier was one of the newer recruits to homicide, having been transferred from the Sûreté’s accounting department. She’d spent years quietly keeping track of the budget, now surpassing a billion dollars, until Chief Superintendent Gamache had noticed her work and thought she’d be helpful tracking down killers.
While she couldn’t follow a DNA trail or a suspect to save her life, she could follow the money. And that often led to the same place.
Everyone else in that conference room had worked hard to get into the most prestigious department in the Sûreté du Québec.
Agent Lysette Cloutier was doing her best to get out. And get back to nice, safe, predictable, understandable numbers. And away from the daily horrors, the physical violence, the emotional chaos of murder.
Cloutier always chose the same seat at these meetings. Making sure her back was to the long whiteboard, on which were tacked photographs.
She considered the email she’d just received, then typed a response and hit send before she had time to reconsider.
‘What do you wanna bet some of these tweets are from Beauvoir?’ said one of the younger agents.
‘You mean Chief Inspector Beauvoir?’
All heads turned to the doorway. And then there was a scramble and a scraping of chairs as everyone got to their feet.
Isabelle Lacoste stood, cane in hand, staring at the young agent. Then her expression softened to a smile as she looked around at the familiar faces.
The last time she’d been in the Monday- morning meeting, she’d chaired it, as head of homicide. Now she entered limping.
Her injuries, though almost healed, were not completely gone. And never would be.
Officers and agents crowded around, welcoming her back, while she tried to explain she wasn’t really back. Promoted to Superintendent, she was in the building for meetings to discuss the timing and conditions of her return to active duty.
But it was no coincidence, everyone in that room knew, that she was there this Monday. Not just any old day. Not just any old meeting.
She took a chair by the head of the table and nodded to the others to retake their seats. Then she looked at the young agent who’d made the comment about Chief Inspector Beauvoir.
‘What did you mean by that?’
Her voice was calm, but she sat unnaturally still. Veteran homicide agents who’d served under Chief Inspector Lacoste recognized the look. And almost pitied the foolish young agent who found himself in her crosshairs.
‘I mean that we all know Chief Inspector Beauvoir is leaving the Sûreté,’ he said. ‘Moving to Paris. But not for another couple of weeks. What happens before then? With Gamache coming back. I’d rather be in a firefight than be Chief Inspector Beauvoir walking into this meeting today. I bet he feels the same way.’
‘You’d lose,’ said Lacoste.
The room grew quiet.
He’s young and foolish, Lacoste thought. Probably longing for some desperate glory.
She knew this agent had never been in a so-called firefight. Even using the ridiculous phrase gave him away. Anyone who’d actually raised a weapon, sighted another human, and shot. Again, and again. And been shot at. Would never consider that glory, nor call it a firefight.
And would never, ever wish to be there again.
Those in the room who’d been on that last raid were looking at the agent. Some with outrage. But some almost wistfully. Remembering when they’d been that young. That naïve. That immortal.
Nine months ago.
They thought back to the summer afternoon. In the pretty forest by the Vermont border. How the sun broke through the trees and they could feel the warmth on their faces.
That moment that seemed to hang in midair before all hell broke loose.
As weapons were raised and fired. And fired. Cutting down the saplings. Cutting down the people.
The screams. The chocking, acrid stench of smoke from the weapons. Of wood and flesh burned by bullets.
Chief Inspector Lacoste was one of the first to fall. Her actions giving Chief Superintendent Gamache that one moment he needed to act. And act he had.
Isabelle Lacoste hadn’t seen what Chief Superintendent Gamache had done. By then she was unconscious. But she’d heard about it. She’d read the transcripts of the investigation, after he’d been suspended.
Gamache had survived the events that day.
Only to be cut down by his own people.
And the attacks were continuing, even as he returned to work.
Isabelle Lacoste, and every veteran officer in that room, knew that the decisions Chief Superintendent Gamache had made were audacious. Daring. Unconventional. And, unlike what the tweets claimed, hugely effective.
But it could very well have gone the other way.
It had been a coup de grâce. The last desperate act of the most senior officer in Québec, who felt there was no other option.
Had Gamache failed, and for a while it appeared he would, the Sûreté would have been crippled, leaving Québec defenseless against an onslaught of gang violence, trafficking, organized crime.
Gamache had prevailed. But just barely, and at a cost.
Any reasonable person making those decisions would expect a consequence, no matter the outcome. The Chief Superintendent was reasonable. He must’ve expected to be suspended. Investigated.
But had he expected to be humiliated?
In their own coup de grâce, the political leadership had decided to save their own skins by putting Gamache’s career out of its misery. Though vindicated in the investigation, he would be offered a job he could not possibly accept. Chief
Inspector of homicide. A position he’d held for many years. One he’d handed over to Lacoste when he’d been promoted to head of the Sûreté. After she’d been wounded, it was a job now filled by Jean- Guy Beauvoir.
It was a demotion, the leadership knew, that Armand Gamache could not agree to. The humiliation would be too great. The cut too deep. He would resign. Retire. Disappear.
But Armand Gamache refused to go. To their astonishment, he’d accepted their offer.
His fall from grace would be completed here. In this room. Today.
And it appeared he’d land, with a thump, right on top of Jean- Guy Beauvoir.
It was seven minutes to eight. The two men would soon walk through the door. Both holding the rank of head of homicide.
And then what would happen?
Even Isabelle Lacoste found herself glancing at the door. Wondering. She didn’t expect trouble but couldn’t help thinking about what George Will called the ‘Ohio Event’.
In 1895 there were only two automobiles in the whole state. And they’d collided.
No one knew better than Lacoste that the unexpected happened.
And now she found herself bracing for the collision.
A Better Man
‘She makes most of her competitors seem like wannabes’ The Times
‘Louise Penny is one of the greatest crime writers of our times’ Denise Mina
The air is unbearably tense as Armand Gamache returns to the Sûreté du Québec for his first day of work since being demoted from its command to head of homicide.
Amid blistering personal social media attacks, Gamache sets out on his first assignment. He has been tasked with finding a missing woman, but while he leads the search for Vivienne Godin, Three Pines itself is threatened when the river breaks its banks, and a province-wide emergency is declared.
As the waters rise, a body is discovered – and the victim’s distraught father contemplates a murder of his own. Gamache is a father himself, and is haunted by a question… what would he do, if his child’s killer might walk free?