There’s an element of Nancy Drew here, but Penny, as ever, has something more ambitious in store ... The series is deep and grand and altogether extraordinary. Although individual novels have featured plots about mass murderers and serial killers, they’re always infused with wit and compassion; they’re as much spiritual investigations into the nature of evil and divine mercy as they are 'entertainments' ... the main narrative branches into more complicated patterns until all questions are resolved in a spectacular climax that cross cuts between story lines ... In addition to all her other many gifts, Penny is a beautiful writer. A Great Reckoning is one of her best, but I think that pretty much every time I finish a Gamache mystery...or metaphysical exploration, or whatever the heck these miraculous books are.
Penny weaves their forgotten histories into her artful tale of a charismatic but despised instructor at the police academy who is found murdered in his quarters, perhaps at the hands of one of the cadets favored by Gamache, who, having cleansed the Sûreté of internal corruption, is now charged with sanitizing the academy. Despite the theme of defiled innocence that makes this such a mournful story, the immense charm of the Gamache series survives in the magical setting and feisty residents of Three Pines ... Like most of the yarns we’ve heard about Three Pines, this one honors the town elders and respects the rituals of their quiet existence. But in a broader sense, the novel reaches beyond the living to become the saddest kind of ghost story, a lament for all 'the phantom life that might have been.'
That’s one of the many reasons A Great Reckoning succeeds on every level: It’s a whodunit where it’s plausible to look at the police cadets, the instructors, the investigators and everyone else as a likely suspect in a fellow instructor’s murder ... Even deep into nearly 400 pages, readers won’t be sure of who the killer is or what the map means. They will know that Penny keeps them turning the pages to the very end to finally find the answers.