How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny is the ninth Inspector Gamache mystery, and as Christmas approaches, hostile politics at the Surete du Quebec will bring him back to Three Pines (available August 27, 2013).
The ninth book in the Inspector Armand Gamache series sees the trouble brewing in previous installments come to a thrilling, violent head. Once in charge of the most efficient division of the Surete du Quebec, Chief Inspector Gamache has seen his homicide department gutted, as agents he trained and trusted left his side, not always willingly, to join other departments. Their replacements are mostly agents whose primary concern is self-preservation, with crime-solving a distant second. In this, they take their cues from Chief Superintendent Francoeur, Gamache’s nemesis, who is intent on promoting an environment of self-interest within the Surete, at the expense of the general good.
Gamache is not giving up without a fight, though.
His method isn’t showy, which concerns those few agents still left on his side. When he reprimands an agent caught in a lie to cover up his laziness, he does so in private, with kindness:
“Do you know what I’ve learned, after three decades of death?” Gamache asked, leaning toward the agent and lowering his voice.
Despite himself, the agent leaned forward.
“I’ve learned how precious life is.”
The agent looked at him, expecting more, and when no more came he slumped in his chair.
“The work you do isn’t trivial,” said the Chief. “People are counting on you. I’m counting on you. Please take it seriously.”
While this speech does have a temporary motivating effect, kindness doesn’t seem enough to stem the erosion of professionalism, so an urgent phone call from an old friend is an almost-welcome distraction. Gamache is asked to look into the disappearance of Constance Pineault, who was supposed to arrive in Gamache’s beloved Three Pines as a guest of bookstore owner Myrna Landers. The investigation quickly turns up Constance’s corpse, as well as the secrets of the infamous past that finally caught up to her.
But it’s really the mystery of Francoeur’s machinations—what’s behind them, what he plans and to what end—that are at the heart of the intricate plot. Gamache’s former assistant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, left to work directly in Francoeur’s office after becoming convinced that Gamache was trying to destroy his life, if not kill him outright. Beauvoir becomes an unwitting linchpin in Francoeur’s plot, as well as the emotional heart of a novel that successfully balances a traditional murder mystery with an urban thriller of corruption and suspense.
It’s probably Louise Penny’s skill at getting to the emotional truth of any situation that makes her so good at melding these genres into a book I found exceptional. This is ably illustrated by an exchange between Gamache and Landers, who was a therapist before she retired to Three Pines, as they discuss the utility of investigating Pineault’s past, Gamache saying,
“I don’t really know, but it’s extraordinary, and when someone is murdered, we look for the extraordinary, though, to be honest, we often find the killer hiding in the banal.”
Myrna laughed. “Sounds like being a therapist. People normally came into my office because something happened. Someone had died, or betrayed them. Their love wasn’t reciprocated. They’d lost a job. Gotten divorced. Something big. But the truth was, while that might’ve been the catalyst, the problem was almost always tiny and old and hidden.”
Gamache raised his brows in surprise. It did sound exactly like his job. The killing was the catalyst, but it almost always started as something small, invisible to the naked eye. It was often years, decades, old. A slight that rankled and grew and infected the host. Until what had been human became a walking resentment. Covered in skin. Passing as human. Passing as happy.
Until something happened.
Louise Penny does a wonderful job of writing a novel with aspects that will appeal to fans of cozy mysteries, police procedurals and thrillers alike. Above all, her faith in goodness, in the power of kindness and love, shines through in a book that isn’t afraid to look unflinchingly at evil and venality in its many forms, reflected as they are in the two main mysteries here. An excellent book on its own, and an emotionally satisfying read for those who’ve been following Gamache’s progress in the Surete.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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