Monday, October 5, 2015

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

Reviewed by Jeanne

Chief Inspector Gamache of the Homicide Department of the Quebec Surete  is facing what would seem to be a rather bleak Christmas.  His department, once composed of a close-knit group, has been split up.  The new agents seem to intent on breaking down the department, mocking the once highly regarded Gamache. At least one of the Chief Inspector’s protégés has turned against him; others, frightened and bewildered, are keeping their distance.  Those in authority want him out for their own nefarious reasons.  The question is, will Gamache go quietly?

As Gamache weighs his options, he gets a call from his friend Myrna in Three Pines, the tiny isolated village where he has solved cases before.  A friend of Myrna’s had planned to come for Christmas but has not shown up and the psychologist turned bookseller is concerned.  She calls Gamache, but is strangely reluctant to tell him exactly who is missing. The secret of the woman’s identity is going to open a door into the psyche of a nation and perhaps a murderer. Meanwhile, a trap is drawing shut. . . but who is the trapper and who is the trapped?

As you may guess from the somewhat vague plot description, I feel strongly that this is a series that needs to be read in order. I’d rather err on the side of caution and not spoil the book for anyone else.  Penny has been building to this scenario from quite some time and fans will be eager for the payoff.  They won’t be disappointed. For everyone else, let me give you some background to the series:

In Roman mythology, the goddess Minerva was born as an adult, fully armed and armored.  She was the goddess of wisdom and poetry, among other things, and is in many ways the perfect symbol for Louise Penny’s books.  From her very first Inspector Gamache novel, the writing has been mature and graceful, the characters deeply layered, and the plots satisfyingly complex. That debut won almost numerous mystery awards and launched Penny into a fabled career as an author. Poetry plays a major role in the books:  not only do characters quote lines frequently, but one of the main characters is a mad poet herself:  Ruth Zardo, who seems to be a bit of a horror, an angry and bitter person, but who sees things others don’t and who writes the truth—something that’s terrifying in and of itself.  For all that, there’s a strong sense of humor that runs through the books; I find myself frequently smiling at a description or a bit of banter.  And have I mentioned the lovely use of language and imagery? It’s no coincidence that visual artists appear frequently in the cast of characters.

Penny’s writing always examines the human condition; mostly the human heart and spirit.  The books are rooted in the psyche. All the characters have depth; they change and grow.  Many are significantly different than the people we met a decade ago. In some ways Penny’s writing reminds me of P.D. James; but where James’ approach was clinical, Penny’s is emotional.  And no matter how grave the situation, there are always grains of hope and joy.  Penny has said that “goodness exists.” That’s not to say that goodness always wins or that evil isn’t real, but simply that there is true goodness in the world. And that knowledge gives us all hope.

With all that said, I admit I put off reading How the Light Gets In.  The previous book, A Beautiful Mystery, had left me saddened and fearful of changes to come to characters I loved.  The title itself was a hint; it comes from the Leonard Cohen song, Anthem: “There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”  Broken things can become stronger. And light shines against the darkness.

The series order is as follows:
Still Life
2. Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
4.  A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
The Hangman
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In
The Long Way Home
The Nature of the Beast

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