Reckoning. It’s a powerful word whose definition depends on the context. A force to be reckoned with. Intimidating. A day of reckoning. Redemption, revelation. The actions we take will come back to haunt us or to set us free. Louis Penny’s beautifully crafted A Great Reckoning shows the messy, beautiful power of reckoning, as an intricate, sometimes painful, liberating process.
Set in a tiny Quebec village, Three Pines, the novel follows Commander Armand Gamache of the elite police school Sûreté Academy, following the murder of a corrupt academy professor. More intriguing than the murder are the consequences, lessons, and truths it brings forth. Throughout her novel, Penny’s characters confront their identities, each seeking a reckoning of reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness, from their pasts.
Amelia Choquet. Dark, spikey hair. Piercings sprinkling her face. Tattoos. She knows she is not the standard, ideal Sûreté cadet. Yet the one who seems to belong the least has the most to teach. Through Amelia, we learn about the importance of being ourselves and the dangers of conformity. She shows the value of thinking and acting differently, enabling us to perceive situations from a fresh perspective. She makes us consider the value of originality and challenges us to look kindly at people who may be different from ourselves. Her history, tangled with Gamache’s, highlights the power of redemption and second chances with the need for forgiveness and the need to be seen. She shows there is freedom when we forgive and let go of a painful past.
The characters’ beautifully complex histories intertwine as Gamache and the cadets work to solve the mystery of the murder of Serge Leduc. Collectively, they reveal that we all have secrets. We hide out of fear, shame, anger, and brokenness. Their stories ask: Where do we draw the line between personal/private and secret? Secrets can break us. How we choose to face them dictates how we will develop and how we reveal the truth. More importantly, the characters prove that vulnerability does not constitute weakness. “Things are strongest when they’re broken,” says Gamache.
Penny’s novel is sublime, with each character contributing a piece to the puzzle, bringing it’s own sorrows, struggles, curiosity, and pain. The novel starts slowly, but that does not make it less interesting; rather, it heightens the suspense as details are dispensed like drops through an IV. There are just enough surprises sprinkled throughout to keep the heart fluttering and the pages turning. As she intertwines two mysteries, Penny shows the beauty of what is unseen, the “mundane and magnificent.” We must look at ourselves, look at others, and be reconciled, forgiven. We must embrace identities, offer second chances, and be vulnerable, “Not because it was easy, but because it was difficult.”