A Better Man is the fifteenth book in a remarkably consistent mystery series. It is a rare series that keeps me engaged over 15 books. I cannot think of another series I have read this far in since I was a teen.
That being said, the beginning I was ready almost to give up. It is hard to move on from the last several books. They have been so big, so consuming in scope that I think it was hard to reset this book to mostly be about a single missing person/murder.
One of the problems of mystery series like this one is that they are not only about the mysteries. If the books are only about the mystery, then it doesn’t matter what the characters are doing, their personal lives, their growth or decline, their trauma or success. However, a series like this, which is more about the ongoing characters than the particulars of the particular murder have to deal with characters, which have arcs and climaxes and depths.
The Chief Inspector Gamache series has had a remarkable number of story arcs and continued. What worked in this particular book is the ongoing reflection on what it means to serve the greater good. The several previous books Gamache was the head of the whole police force and as such had an enormous amount of power, which he used to fight corruption, organized crime and the poor uses of power by other officials. But to do so, Gamache had to use methods that were themselves abuses of power. Gamache made those choices because he trusted his integrity, but Gamache in this book is somewhat humbled. Others are attempting to use their power for the greater good, but not every theoretical greater good is an actual greater good.
Gamache is still near perfect. While I like having a strong moral compass as the main character, the problem is that no one is perfect. Gamache continues to be near perfect, but we see some limits. Not everyone who desires to be good in their outlook is good. Not every one that wields power does it well.
This is a smaller story, mostly. The human interactions, the long term personal stories are what I like the most. The continuing power plays within the Sûreté are the least exciting parts to me. The love that Gamache has for his officers and family and community are the most interesting.
A Better Man was not my favorite of the series, but it was solid, although it started slow and had several false endings. I do not know, as I have not for the past half dozen books, where Louise Penny can continue to go with the next books. This is a series I have loved, but I also would prefer it to be one that ends well, or just ends, instead of ending badly.