The New York Times bestselling Inspector Armand Gamache novel series from author Louise Penny is what I would call a perfect winter read: cozy mysteries set in the fictional village of Three Pines, inhabited by a colorful, but lovable group of people who have found both friendship and refuge in each other, away from the bustle of surrounding Quebec. Imagine a quaint, wintry village where you can just as easily ice skate on the frozen pond in the square as you can enjoy a gourmet dinner and lively book discussion in front of a roaring fire at the local bistro. It’s easy to imagine Penny took her inspiration for the Three Pines from a Thomas Kinkade painting–if his paintings just happened to be filled with a whole bunch of murderers.
Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of the series, The Three Pines, promises all the coziness of those charming mystery novels, sure to delight fans of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. But while the novels balance a delicate line of calculating thrill and disarming charm, the show suffers from pacing that is practically rocket-speed by comparison—every two episodes tackles the plot of one novel. That said, The Three Pines is a brilliant introduction to Inspector Gamache and viewers need no prior familiarity with Penny’s books to enjoy a series that’s perfect for your wintry evenings.
The series opens with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (Alfred Molina), head of Homicide for the Surêté du Québec, arriving in the Three Pines to investigate the murder of the incredibly unlikable CC de Poitiers. While this is surely meant to be a sort of punishment for the Head of Homicide after a recent dispute with superiors, Gamache seems nonplussed by the slight and dives into the case with his familiar team, Jean-Guy Beauvior (Rossif Sutherland) and Isabelle Lacoste (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers). Bumbling, accident-prone Yvette Nichol (Sarah Booth) challenges the team’s patience as the local rookie detective. Molina is particularly likable as Gamache, whose level-headedness and insightful observations require a measured approach. Molina is incredible at depicting both empathy and patience onscreen, traits so unique to Gamache that he is often called a coward for his failure to react. But in a time when both the United States and Canada are plagued by overreactive police, it’s rather understandable to see how this makes Gamache an outlier.
Indeed, the series tackles some rather bold societal issues head-on. Years of systemic abuse towards Indigenous Peoples by Christians and the Canadian government forms the overarching mystery spanning all eight episodes. The series opens with the shouts from a protest by First Nations people who’ve gathered outside the Police Headquarters. They are calling for intervention in the cases of hundreds of Indigenous girls who go missing each year that see no resolution. Blue Two-Rivers (Anna Lambe) is one of those girls and it’s here Gamache meets her mother, Arisawe Two-Rivers (Georgina Lightning). Gamache and Lacoste, a Native herself, are haunted by the mother’s anguish and the seeming dead-end case. Georgina Lightning is powerful in this role as a fearless mother taking on the entirety of the Surêté du Québec. While the series might have been focused on monochromatic—read: White People—problems and centered entirely on the idyllic village of Three Pines, here it lifts its head towards a larger picture, aware of its own problematic Quebecois backyard and the longstanding racial troubles plaguing it. It’s this mystery that is perhaps the most compelling and with the highest stakes, and reason enough to binge all eight episodes.
That said, it’s the quirky and delightful villagers who will endear you to Three Pines, all of whom are suspects in the rather awful CC de Poitiers’ death: psychologist-turned-bookseller Myrna, strongly opinionated and fiercely protective played by Tamara Brown; sweet and sensitive artiste Clara Marrow (Anna Tierney); Olivier and Gabri, the oddly-matched gay couple who own and operate the bistro (Frederic-Antoine Guimond and Pierre Simpson); Bea Mayer, the indigenous art gallery owner (Tantoo Cardinal); and the delightfully obscene and strange reclusive poet Ruth Zardo, brilliantly played by Clare Coulter. Louise Penny has said she yearned for a sense of belonging and an end to loneliness, and so it makes good sense that The Three Pines is a sort of safe harbor for this found family, “only ever found by people lost.” The immediacy of the murder introduced in Whiteout Part One and Part Two (episodes 1-2) is also its challenge; it’s hard to connect to a bunch of murder suspects who all appear to be hiding secrets. But by episode three Gamache (and viewers) are part of the fold and the sense of magic that envelops the village.
The Three Pines is a compelling watch made even more likable by its own social awareness. Indeed, the case of the missing Blue Two-Rivers is echoed throughout each episode with haunting art installations in Be Calm, Bea Mayer’s art gallery. In one, striking red dresses hang from empty tree limbs, each one representing a missing Indigenous girl or woman. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the striking visuals in Handmaid’s Tale. But where the latter is often heavy and difficult to watch with its dystopian vision, The Three Pines manages to balance its reality with a sense of hope. It’s an easily bingeable, enjoyable mystery series with a talented cast, perfect for cozy fireplace viewing. The first two episodes are available from Amazon Prime on December 2, with two new episodes released weekly until the finale on December 23.
Louise Penny’s latest novel in the Inspector Gamache series, A World of Curiosities, is due out November 29.