How the Light Gets In. Louise Penny. August 2013, Minotaur Books, New York. $25.99. Hardback. ISBN: 978-0-312-65547-1.
With each new book–How the Light Gets In is her ninth--Louise Penny stretches herself and the mystery genre farther to make the point she says both in print and at readings: “If you carry one thing away from my books, I want it to be that goodness exists.” In her novels the good people are all too human, and we might say that they all have “cracks.” Nevertheless, they fight for what is right and true. Chief Inspector Gamache lives by the Quebec Surete motto: Service, Integrity, and Justice. Unfortunately, at work at the higher levels of the Surete are those who seek power for its own sake and use cruelty, deceit, and betrayal to achieve their goals. “The Surete had changed. It was now a culture that rewarded cruelty.” [p. 16]
Gamache’s own Homicide Department has been gutted. His faithful agents have either left or been transferred out to other departments by Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur. The only loyal officer left to Gamache in Homicide is Inspector Isabel Lacoste, Gamache’s new second in command. She wonders if Gamache can hold it together. The new agents he has been assigned aren’t there to solve crimes but to bring Gamache down. Beauvoir, his former second in command, whom he loves like a son, is still addicted to the pain medicine he took after the shoot-out in the factory in an earlier book. He is being manipulated by Francoeur so that he’s useless. He is sent out on unnecessary drug raids designed to terrify him and keep him in despair.
Meantime, in Three Pines, Constance Pineault, once a patient of Myrna Landers and now a friend, comes to visit her, and before she leaves has decided to come back to Three Pines for Christmas. She is making new friends for the first time in her life, surprisingly even with the crabby old poet Ruth Zardo. Constance has a secret she wants to tell Myrna. Then she fails to arrive and Myrna asks Gamache to help find her. He discovers that Constance was once world-famous and has been murdered.
Threaded through the murder investigation, which the Montreal police turn over to Gamache, is the building suspense of Gamache seeking to learn and stop what Francoeur is up to. Besides Isabel, he calls for help from three other allies, two of whom have computer internet skills. This war is fought largely over the internet.
Gamache settles himself in Three Pines, with regular trips to Montreal. Our favorite village characters are here, besides Myrna and her bookstore: Clara and her paintings; Ruth and her duck, whose words are sometimes mistaken for Ruth’s, and vice versa; Gabri and Olivier of the B & B, and the bistro.
This novel is about an ancient and ongoing war in human life between good and evil. In our period it’s as intense as ever, and the Surete du Quebec is not the only big and powerful organization that is being corrupted at the top by human beings set on an evil course and hoping to diminish and destroy good, conscientious people.
You could also say that the book depicts a war between the powers of hate and love. In the world of Three Pines love flourishes while in the world of the Surete, hate is making strides fast and furiously. Armand Gamache’s intelligence and inner resources are tested as never before, as are those of the Three Pines characters, Lacoste, and the computer savvy allies of Gamache.
Louise Penny is my favorite living mystery author. Her books are delicious to read, and she generously shares her own wisdom and goodness. The title, How the Light Gets In, hangs on a poem by Leonard Cohen called Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s what this #1 New York Times bestseller is about. Read and savor all nine of her books, and especially this one. Louise didn’t have to convince me that goodness exists, but she always reminds me that good people need all their courage and ingenuity in our twenty-first century.
Note: I did an interview with Louise back in 2009, and that interview is on this blog site, posted May 29, 2011. It gets more page views than any other of my blogs since January 2011. JH
Louise and Michael, her model for Armand Gamache.