A boy comes running into the bistro at Three Pines in Quebec, claiming to have seen a gigantic gun with a monster on the end of it. The bistro’s patrons, including retired Chief Inspector Armand Gamache roll their eyes and look at one another, roll their eyes and look at one another. They know this boy with the hyperactive imagination. He claims to see all kinds of things in the dense woods nearby.
A day later, the boy goes missing, and then is found dead, the victim of an apparent accident. But the accident doesn’t look right to Gamache, even though the investigating police are satisfied. As it turns out, the accident was staged. The boy was murdered.
During the search, a local stumbles over what is a huge camouflaged area. Digging into it, the searchers find a gigantic gun, a supergun, with a monstrous figure painted on it. They also find the murder scene. Unfortunately, the boy had been telling the truth, and someone didn’t want that truth to be known. The huge gun turns out to be a pre-electronic missile launcher, capable to hurling a missile into low earth orbit. And it’s pointed toward the United States.
The Surete homicide squad, now led by Gamache’s protégé Isabelle Lacoste and including his son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, rolls in to Three Pines. So do two investigators from the secretive Canadian security service. And Gamache and the investigators discover that nothing is what it seems.
The Nature of the Beast is Canadian author Louise Penny’s 11th Inspector Gamache novel, published in 2015 (there are two more published since then). I’m not sure how Penny does it, but each of the Gamache novels has been successfully better than the one before, and the one before has always been excellent.
The real shock of this novel comes in the afterword, where Penny explains that this is based on a true story. A Canadian scientist named Gerard Bull did indeed design and build a “supergun,” and tried or succeeded in selling it to Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. A version of the gun was actually found in the Barbados Islands. If it had been operational, it could have fired anything put into it, including a nuclear weapon.
Bull was killed in Brussels, many believe by agents of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. That event is wrapped into Penny’s novel as well, as well as a fictional account of a serial killer.
The Nature of the Beast is a tension-filled story based on a real event, one that could have ended very badly with the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Top photograph: A prototype of Gerard Bull’s supergun.