Wednesday, February 8, 2017

“How the Light Gets In” by Louise Penny

An elderly woman is found dead in her small Montreal home. She had just visited the village of Three Pines, and was packing to return where she had found love, warmth, and friendship. But someone struck her dead. The crime wasn’t a robbery gone bad; nothing was stolen. Her suitcase was on the bed, mostly packed.

Technically, the crime is out of jurisdiction for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete Homicide Division. But the investigating officer for the Montreal police is an old friend, he wants to leave foe his Christmas holiday, and Gamache is more than glad to take over.

Gamache needs to take over. He needs an excuse for visiting Three Pines without arousing suspicion of his superiors at the Surete. Something big is building. Gamache doesn’t know what it is, but he knows it’s bad. And it involves his superior officer, Sylvain Francouer.

What Gamache learns early on is that the dead woman is the last of the famous quintuplets born in Quebec during the Depression of the 1930s (the quints and their family in this story are based loosely on the real-life Dionne quintuplets).

Gamache is assisted by his sergeant Isabelle Lacoste. His regular sergeant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, the young man Gamache loves like a son, is now estranged, co-opted by Francouer and in a downward spiral of addiction to painkillers, an addiction happily facilitated by Francoeur. And there’s more: Lacoste is the only personally recruited detective Gamache has left; Francouer has trashed his department and replaced Gamache’s people with political lackeys.

And something big is building. Something bad. And evil.

How the Light Gets In is the ninth Inspector Gamache detective novel by Canadian author Louise Penny. The enmity between Gamache and Francoeur has been building for several books now, and here it breaks out into the open. Here all the cards are on the table, and only one winner will emerge from the rivalry.

Louise Penny
The book, with a title based on the line of a song by the late Leonard Cohen, is a tension-filled page-turner (I mean that literally; I woke up at 1:30 in the morning to finish the last 100 pages). It didn’t help to know that there are two novels remaining in the series; Penny does unexpected but real things with her regular characters, and isn’t above sending them to prison, making them disappear, or even killing them off.

Woven into the fabric of this suspenseful duel is the story of the quintuplets and what happened to them. The Dionne babies were actually born in neighboring Ontario instead of Quebec, where Penny places her fictional children. Gamache will eventually solve this crime as well.

How the Light Gets In is riveting, a creative mystery filled with unexpected developments and characters with whom you want to sit next to a fire, drink a glass a wine, and much some of the bread baked by Gabri and Olivier at their Three Pines bistro.

My anguish is that there are only three Inspector Gamache novels left to read, and I read them faster than Penny writes them.