The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny.
I was fortunate enough to receive this book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. Although it arrived in July, I'm only reviewing it now because I wanted to read the previous books in the series (I'm anal that way), and I'm glad I did, as I was already familiar with the residents of Three Pines and the members of Inspector Gamache's investigative team.
This, the fifth book in the Armand Gamache/Three Pines series, begins with Olivier Brule's visit to someone only described as the Hermit, who lives in a cabin in the woods. The next morning, Olivier, owner of the bistro in Three Pines, and his partner Gabriel, who runs the Bed and Breakfast next door, are awakened by a phone call summoning them to the bistro.
There, they join friend and neighbour Myrna (owner of the local bookstore), who has seen someone lying inside the bistro. Upon entry, they discover that it is the dead body of a man with a head wound. The local Surete calls in the murder investigation squad of the Surete du Quebec, which happens to be led by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, no stranger to the village of Three Pines.
Their investigation is complicated by the fact that the body has no form of identification, and no one in the village recognizes the dead man. Once again, Inspector Gamache and his crew set up their Situation Room in the old railway station, now the home of the Three Pines Volunteer Fire Department.
Reading this book was like visiting a place one hasn't been to for some time, and coming across old acquaintances. Woven through the murder story are threads about some of the other Three Pines residents: the artist Clara Morrow, preparing for her first solo exhibition, the poet Ruth Zardo and her duck Rosa. Ms. Penny is an astounding writer, and the people and places in Three Pines felt very real and familiar to me.
I've seen other reviews by people who couldn't put this book down once begun, but I found that I had to take breaks between every few chapters because of the emotional intensity of the story. Penny unflinchingly exposes all facets of her complex characters; we see the good and bad in almost every one of them. To me, the ending was a huge surprise, and I can hardly wait for the next book in the series to see if it really is an ending.