A Better Man Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 94 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Better Man.
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A Better Man Summary & Study Guide Description

A Better Man Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on A Better Man by Louise Penny.

The following version of the novel was used to create this study guide: Penny, Louise. A Better Man. Minotaur Books, August 27, 2019. Kindle.

In the novel A Better Man by Louise Penny, the fifteenth installment in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Armand Gamache learns that even after all of his experience investigating crimes and trying to make unprejudiced decisions, he still falls prey to his own human nature. Gamache and others assumed that Carl Tracey, the alcoholic and abusive husband of Vivienne Godin, was responsible for her death. When Gamache and his team of investigators finally looked beyond their perception of Tracey, they realized that the truth was more terrible than anything they could have imagined.

It was April in Québec. With a mix of rain, snow, and ice continuing to fall, the spring thaw threatened to send a 100-year-flood to threaten small towns and big cities alike as rivers overflowed their banks and dams threatened to burst. In the midst of this community tragedy, Agent Lysette Cloutier, announced to her superior officers, Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir that the daughter of her friend was missing. It was Gamache’s first day on the job in the shared position of Chief Inspector of homicide. Officers were already uneasy as they wondered how Gamache would handle his demotion as well as the shared position with Beauvoir, an officer whom Gamache had mentored as Beauvoir worked his way up through the ranks in the Sûreté. When Beauvoir assigned Gamache to help Lysette look for the missing girl, the assignment could have been seen as a punishment, but Gamache accepted it gladly.

As Gamache and Lysette set about investigating the disappearance of Vivienne Godin, Gamache warned Lysette and Isabel Lacoste, another officer who volunteered to work on the case, not to let their perceptions impact their ability to be unprejudiced. Vivienne’s father, Homer Godin, told officers that his daughter had called him on Saturday to tell him that she was finally leaving her abusive husband. She had planned to come to her father’s house but never arrived. Gamache and the others learned from the local police that Vivienne had called several times to report her husband was being abusive, but she never filed charges. The police received a warrant to search the house Vivienne shared with Tracey. Tracey was belligerent and admitted he beat his wife. He claimed, however, that he had not killed her. He said they had a fight Saturday when she told him the baby she was carrying was not his. He went into his studio to work. When he came out again, Vivienne was gone.

Meanwhile, the floodwaters threatened Three Pines, the small village in which Gamache lived with his wife, Reine-Marie. Gamache and Beauvoir went to the town to help with sandbagging and to monitor the river. When it appeared the town would suffer serious flooding, Gamache ordered a backhoe be used to dig a trench into a field downriver, giving the water someplace to go other than the town. Tracey, who owned the property onto which the trench was being dug, ordered the digging to stop but Gamache and Beauvoir held him off until the river was diverted. All of them stared in shock as the bulldozer uncovered a pink duffel bag with Vivienne’s initial on it. Gamache and Beauvoir opened the bag despite Tracey’s arguments that the bag was his personal property. The discovery of the bag led to the discovery of Vivienne’s body. It was suspected she had fallen, or been pushed from, a bridge on a former logging road.

In the course of the investigation, Lysette discovered that Tracey had a social media page to promote his pottery. She began communicating with the webmaster of that page pretending to be an art gallery interested in Tracey’s work. Lysette manipulated the webmaster into giving her permission to join a private Instagram account. From this account, she learned that Tracey and his webmaster were having an affair. They had sent incriminating messages suggesting they planned to kill Vivienne so they could be together.

Tracey was convicted of Vivienne’s murder and arrested. At Tracey's arraignment, however, the judge dropped the charges. She said any evidence associated with the duffel bag was inadmissible because that search was illegal. The judge additionally ruled that the information gleaned from the private Instagram site was inadmissible because Lysette had been communicating with the webmaster, who was not suspected of having committed a crime, and not Tracey, who was the suspect.

Godin, Vivienne’s father, vowed to take matters into his own hands and kill Tracey. Even though Gamache made him stay at his house in Three Pines until officers could find some other way to convict Tracey, Godin managed to sneak away and abduct Tracey. Gamache and the other officers confronted Godin on the bridge where Godin intended to kill both Tracey and himself by throwing Tracey off and then jumping after him. Hoping to distract Godin from his plan, Gamache lied and told Godin that Tracey did not kill Vivienne. Lysette stepped forward and claimed that she had killed Vivienne. She claimed she had been angry with Vivienne for making Godin break off his relationship with Lysette. In the confusion, Godin dropped Tracey who kicked out as he fell, knocking Godin off the bridge. Beauvoir tried to catch Godin but fell also. He was caught by Gamache who held on as long as he could before letting the younger officer fall. Beauvoir was rescued from the river by Tracey, who had anticipated what would happen and had gone down to the riverbank to try to help.

Lysette continued to insist she had killed Vivienne until Beauvoir caught her in an obvious lie. Based on information they had just gotten from Vivienne and Godin’s bank accounts, the officers pieced together that Godin had been paying his daughter $2,000 each month. He had recently taken out a second mortgage on his house in order to give Vivienne $20,000. That loan had been taken out on the Friday before Vivienne disappeared. Lysette admitted she had begun to suspect that Godin had been physically abusive to Vivienne. She remembered how Vivienne’s mother had begged her to protect Vivienne but at that time had not realized from whom Vivienne needed that protection.

The detectives inferred that Godin had been lying when he told them that Vivienne planned to leave Tracey. They believed Vivienne met her father on the bridge to face her abuser and come to some sort of closure since she was carrying a child of her own. They hoped that Vivienne had fallen accidentally but could not rule out that Godin might have killed his daughter in anger. Recognizing their mistake, Gamache and Beauvoir apologized to Tracey for wrongly convicting him.

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