Louise Penny’s 13th Inspector Gamache novel takes readers back to Three Pines in a most creative way.

Readers are introduced to a trial in process with Gamache as a prime witness. But who the defendant and the victim are is parsed out in a way that heightens the suspense in the first part of the book.

But that’s not the only challenge that Penny has up her sleeve. By going back to the beginning of this crime, Gamache and the other Three Pines residents tell the story of a dark figure who suddenly appears on the village’s green. Cloaked in black and with its face hidden behind a mask, the figure causes a disruption in the town, but since it has done nothing illegal, Gamache is powerless to do anything.

Readers learn the unusual history behind this kind of figure, and not long after it disappears is when the victim’s body is found.

Gamache almost appears on trial, as the animosity between him and the prosecutor on the case is quite evident. His every move and action is questioned. It’s a tense standoff, and there’s more at the bottom of this than meets the eye.

It’s difficult to explain more without giving away the plot, but it involves old friends in a reunion, the bounding drug culture, drugs being transferred, and the feel that Quebec is losing its footing against the drug barons. How these disparate things tie in to Three Pines is once again the genuis that is Penny’s, and the difficult decisions she visits on Gamache.

There will be real threat and pain to those he loves before it’s over, and even then the outcome will be devastating on several levels. Absorbing and complex, the richly layered plot is highlighted by Penny’s trademark details and the wry humor that creeps in, despite the enormity of the situation.

It’s a fine balance that tackles a real life issue with an insprired and controversial solution. Highly recommended.