Thursday, September 12, 2013

What we're reading: New Mystery

I have been waiting to read Louise Penny's next mystery, How the Light Gets In, for the better part of a year. It hasn't helped my peace of mind any that I decided to follow her on Facebook and have therefore been receiving tantalizing quotes and countdowns for months. I have been a fan since Aunt Agatha introduced me to the first in Penny's series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the town of Three Pines, just south of Montreal; this one is number nine. These are complex, thoughtful, smart mysteries, with a lot of back story and a large cast of characters to go with each one, and at the center of them is Gamache and his young and dashing compatriot, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir.

In the past couple of books, however, Beauvoir has lost his joie de vivre. After an injury sustained during a raid, he became addicted to pain pills, but his real malady is a loss of faith in himself and in his mentor, Gamache. At the end of the last book, the two had a parting of ways, and Gamache is desolate that Jean Guy has gone over to the side of his enemy in the Sûreté du Québec, Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur. Along with this loss, Gamache has had to watch the systematic destruction of his department, as his homicide team has been split up and reassigned elsewhere and he has been isolated by Francoeur's faction. This targeting of Gamache supposedly harks back to a time in the distant past when he refused to cooperate with a massive police cover-up and instead arrested the ringleader, one of his superior officers. But we quickly realize in this book that not all of the evil conspiracy can be relegated to the past....

As usual, this is a multi-layered story, which also presents a "regular" murder mystery to be solved while all of the above is simultaneously going on, and this mystery takes us back to the town of Three Pines, where we revisit the querulous poet Ruth, the B&B and bistro owners Gabri and Olivier, the painter Claire, the bookstore owner Myrna, and all our favorite personalities from volumes past. A friend of Myrna's was due to visit for Christmas but never showed up, and Gamache immediately discovers that what looks like a simple, perhaps random murder also has ties to the distant past and a celebrated group of sisters born during the Great Depression, of whom Constance, the victim, was the last.

You may be getting the idea that this is definitely not a stand-alone book, and you are right; if you picked up this one without reading the series, you would be utterly lost. Don't let that deter you, though, because if you don't read this series from the beginning and persevere to the end, you will have missed a true feast of good mystery writing--or should I just say good storytelling? I think Penny is a writer to be enjoyed whether you love mysteries or not. I so look forward to each of these, and I think I will now have to join you in starting over with book one, Still Life, to pass the time while waiting for the next! I can't think of a place I would rather be for the next few months of reading than in Three Pines. (Actually, I'd like to be sitting in the bistro eating and drinking some of their delectable creations--a warning that when reading this series, you will suddenly develop a hankering for crepes, fine cheeses, pain au chocolat, and a variety of esoteric liqueurs!)

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