How the Light Gets In By Louise Penny: Vive Gamache!

Nov 2, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sharon Tucker

by Sharon Tucker

In 2005, Canadian author Louise Penny’s novel Still Life introduced readers to Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Quebec Sureté, to his Homicide Squad and to the village of Three Pines, Quebec. Nine novels later in the series with How the Light Gets In, we have traveled with Gamache to other venues within the province, but always we come back to Three Pines, where the heart of the series lies. So too, although the venues of the some of the novels vary slightly, Gamache remains their moral center. His team and the reader rely on his judgment and his compassion–much as readers in the genre count on Penny to observe the cardinal rules governing mystery writing.

How the Light Gets In features Gamache’s Homicide squad itself as a major plot element. Penny’s readers have seen the team gain and lose personnel with each novel, but until the previous entry in the series, The Beautiful Mystery, Jean-Guy de Beauvoir, Gamache’s 2nd in command, has always been at his side. We begin this novel with only one of the original Homicide team working with Gamache, and it’s not Beauvoir. The team has been dispersed to other units within the Sureté and Gamache is left with an unruly, insubordinate group of officers to contend with on a daily basis. Beauvoir has cast himself adrift from everything familiar–assigned to frequent drug raids, living in constant dread that each one is his last, a victim of his sickness.

The novel’s other inciting plot elements include a questionable suicide in Montreal, the disappearance of a revered Canadian celebrity and the connection this missing celebrity has to the village of Three Pines. Penny’s readers will relish spending time with familiar villagers, among them, the irascible poet Ruth (accompanied by Rosa), innkeepers Gabri and Olivier, Claire the newly acclaimed painter and Myrna, proprietress of the village bookstore to name a but a few.

What engages readers from book to book are not only Penny’s plots, but also how fearless she is in detailing her major characters’ flaws, some of which go beyond just unattractive. For example, the previous novel, The Beautiful Mystery, demonstrated the steady deterioration of one of the series’ best liked characters. Readers were left in the lurch at the novel’s end, dreading the year’s wait for the next novel in the series and the suspense was unresolved for the better part of How the Light Gets In. Just how Penny does this, retains her loyal readers and makes readers love her for it is quite an authorial feat.

Here’s hoping Penny aficionados were pleased with the CBC’s television production of Still Life that aired in Canada in September. Although I have a few quibbles, and I missed seeing a few of what I consider to be salient elements from the novel that didn’t transition into the screenplay, I adjusted to British actor Nathaniel Parker as Gamache fairly easily–he won me over by so obviously falling in love with Three Pines as the film progressed.

Unfortunately, some of the characters were played a bit over-the-top for comfort, but the star of the show was Three Pines itself, as far as I’m concerned. The location people get a 5 star review for finding a perfect village to stand in for the imaginary Three Pines–autumnal, welcoming and radiating just the right ambience. All in all it was a good introduction to Penny’s novels. Of course, the novel Still Life is much more rich by comparison and has found its way once again the top of my TBR stack.

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Sharon Tucker is former faculty at the University of Memphis in Memphis TN, and now enjoys evening supervising in that campus library. Having forsworn TV except for online viewing and her own movies, she reads an average of 3 to 4 books per week and has her first novel—a mystery, of course—well underway.


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