How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #9

how the light gets in

For the ninth book in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Louise Penny has written her most complex, broad-reaching, and thrilling novel of the series so far. Christmas is fast-approaching and Armand finds himself weary and heart-sick: his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir has left the homicide department and cut ties with Armand; his superiors at the Sûreté du Québec are pressuring Armand to quit his job; and the young officers in his department are refusing to follow his command. Armand is working, delicately and carefully, try to unravel the real reasons that his superiors are trying to force him out. His instincts tell him that there are crimes being committed within the Sûreté that someone desperately does not want Armand to look into; so much so that they are trying to make his work-life miserable enough to force him to resign.

Despite the chaos that has descended onto the department, Armand must continue to investigate murders, it is his duty and his moral obligation to help find the men and women who have taken lives and bring them to justice. Only now, Armand must do it with almost no support. It is a murder that brings him back to Three Pines once again, to look for clues into the murder of a once-famous woman. While in the village, Armand realizes its remote location would also allow him to perfect place to investigate his fellow officers from afar.

With the help of a few agents who are still loyal to him, Armand sets up a base in Three Pines and — using the woman’s murder as cover — begins to bring to light the corruption within the Sûreté. What he uncovers is more shocking than any of the team can imagine, and uncovering those secrets puts not only Armand in danger, but all of the villagers in Three Pines as well.

Thrilling and complex, the novel brings to conclusion several story-lines with twists and turns on nearly every page. A page-turner that was impossible to put down, even on the busiest of days, Thanksgiving! My guests may have felt slightly neglected but I had to know how it would all come together in the end!

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A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (2010)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #7

Forgiveness is at the heart of Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light; those offering it and those in need of receiving it, and what happens when forgiveness is offered and met with murder rather than acceptance.

As the book opens, Clara Morrow of Three Pines is celebrating her first ever solo art show at one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. There is a party at the gallery itself, but a larger, less formal and more fun party that takes place back in Three Pines for Clara’s beloved friends and neighbors.

However, not everyone is happy for Clara and not everyone is in the mood to celebrate her successes. There are people who are jealous of Clara, people who do not wish her well, and even those who would love to ruin her party if only to soothe their own wounded egos. Who are these people? It is hard to tell, for everyone is putting forth their best public faces; saying all the right things to Clara, appearing for all intents and purposes to be rooting for her. Indeed, one person is so angered that they have resorted to murder.

On the morning after the party, Clara’s husband finds a dead body in their garden. He and Clara are shocked to find a body at all, but even more shocked when they learn that the murdered woman was someone they both knew years before…someone who it is highly unlikely was killed in their garden on accident.

Enter Armand Gamache and his team of investigators, who arrive and learn that the body belongs to a woman — once well-known and powerful in the art world — now despised by many people in the Quebec art community, a woman blamed with ruining careers without a care, a woman many people at the party would have wanted dead — including Clara and her husband. Even more perplexing is the fact that the victim seems to have not seen or spoken to anyone involved in the case for decades; so her death at this juncture is deeply puzzling.

The officers must delve into the murky world of artists, art dealers, art galleries and art critics in order to sort out why this woman has been killed and who wanted to hurt Clara by killing her in Clara’s yard. As their investigation progresses, they also must delve into the world of Alcoholics Anonymous of which the victim was a part of in recent months. It is there, in the world of the addicted and the recovering that the theme of forgiveness emerges as central to solving the case.

Was the woman killed because someone could not forgive her for her past cruelties? Or perhaps, killed her so she could not ask forgiveness for herself and in the process reveal the lies of another person?

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone Mystery Series, Book #25

I am astonished that in more than two years writing this blog, I have never before reviewed one of Sue Grafton’s outstanding Kinsey Millhone novels. Kinsey is Grafton’s smart, cranky private investigator who relentlessly digs into the cases she is hired to solve and many mysteries she feels compelled to solve, if only to satisfy her own curiosity.  Kinsey narrates all of the alphabetically named books in the series; beginning with A is for Alibi and ending (for now) with book number twenty-five, Y is for Yesterday.

In this most recent installment, the year is 1989 and Kinsey is back home in Santa Teresa California, recovering from nearly being killed by a serial killer who she tracked down in book twenty-four, X. The serial killer got away, but Kinsey has gathered enough evidence of his murders to have the man living on the run, being hunted by the FBI and several California police departments. In a display of her typical hard-headedness and refusal to quit or leave it to the authorities, Kinsey is still on the look out for the serial killer.

To pay the bills, Kinsey accepts a case from the wealthy local McCabe family who want her to look into who might have sent them a blackmail letter demanding $25,000. The couple’s son, Fritz McCabe, has only recently been released from prison where he served ten years for his role in the death of a high-school classmate in 1979. Enclosed in the blackmail letter, is a videotape that has highly damaging footage of Fritz that would almost certainly send him back to prison.

Despite her insistence that they should go to the police, the McCabe family implores Kinsey to look into the threat. If they go to the police, they will have to reveal the contents of the videotape and their son’s will likely be charged with another crime. Against her better judgment to shield Fritz (whom she instantly dislikes) from the police, Kinsey takes the case.

To begin looking into the blackmail demand, Kinsey must first research the murder that Fritz was an accomplice to; she is certain that the two crimes must be linked together. As always, her instincts are correct.

Kinsey learns that in 1979 Fritz and three other boys from an elite private high-school had brutally raped a 14-year-old female classmate and videotaped the entire assault. When the tape was stolen from the young men, they panicked knowing that they would be arrested if it is found. The boys learned that another classmate, Sloan Stevens, had the tape. When their attempts to bully Sloan into turning over the tape fail, the boys went further: they lured her to a remote cabin in the hills above Santa Teresa. Sloan was kidnapped, dragged into the woods, shot in the head and buried in a shallow grave.

Two of the boys were sent to jail for her murder, another was found to have played a role but was not sent to jail, and the fourth boy — the one whose father owned the gun and the cabin; the one who police believed to be the mastermind of the murder — took off and was never found.

Ten years later, the tape has resurfaced and a copy is now in the hands of Kinsey Millhone who has been entrusted with keeping it secret, and with keeping Fritz McCabe from going back to jail. Kinsey must simultaneously investigate the sexual assault, the murder of Sloan Stevens, and the blackmail attempt in the hopes that one of the players in these heinous crimes is stirring up the trouble. Oh, and she’s still hunting a serial killer…it’s a busy month.

Even though she is disgusted with Fritz McCabe and the other students who raped one girl and murdered another, Kinsey feels compelled to solve the mystery, Not to protect them, but in the hope that she can put all of the perpetrators back in jail where they belong once she is finished.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (2010)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #6

bury your dead

The dead abound in Louise Penny’s sixth Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel, Bury Your Dead. The characters in the book are surrounded by the dead: men dead hundreds of years in the past, men and women dead in a terrible recent tragedy, and — finally — one newly murdered man. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must simultaneously work to bury his guilt and heartbreak over the loss of fellow officers and work to uncover the person responsible for a man murdered in the present. Layered on top of these two challenges — one emotional, one professional — Armand Gamache is also following the trail of a long-dead man whose final resting place would answer the questions of many Quebecois historians.

After the horror of a police investigation gone wrong, one which left the Chief Inspector wounded and grieving, Armand has traveled to Quebec City to the home of his long-time mentor and friend to recover. While there, Armand is working to recover his physical strength and to quiet the ghosts of dead officers who are haunting him.

In an effort to find peace, Armand begins to spend his days at a small nearby library run by and dedicated to the English settlers of French-dominated Quebec City. Acting as amateur historical sleuth, Armand is hoping the library’s books might offer clues about a famous battle in the 1600’s that resulted in English-rule over the French residents of the city for centuries. What he finds instead is a dead body.

The dead man is a well-known local man who was known to be obsessed with finding the body of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. So obsessed, the victim regularly broke into buildings throughout the city digging for Samuel de Champlain‘s burial site. When the man is found in a shallow grave inside the English library everyone is left to wonder– did he finally find the famous grave site? And if so, was he killed in order to keep the location of Samuel de Champlain a secret?

Assisting the local police, Armand beings to make inquiries into the case and he finds some of the grief that has been hanging over him for months lifting as he digs into the mystery. Working gives Armand a renewed sense of faith in his work as a police officer and allows him to process the deaths of his fellow officers from a remove. Soon police work becomes historical detective work as well; as the city’s history plays a crucial role — 400 years later — in solving this present-day crime. Armand’s love of Quebec history make his findings in the case thrilling as he gets to use his investigative skills to find the killer and learn more about his beloved home province.

Armand must uncover the secrets of the murdered man, a man who was obsessed with uncovering the location of a long-dead hero; and both men — one living and one dead — are following the trails of two mysteries that are intricately linked.

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan (2017)

“To be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind.”

Liza Cole is suspense novelist whose career has been on the decline for years; her first book was a run-away best-seller, but her subsequent books have flopped. She needs another successful book launch if there is any hope of keeping her publishing contract alive. The only problem is that her personal life is in disarray: she is undergoing a experimental fertility treatment that leaves her constantly ill, with debilitating migraines, and memory lapses. Further complicating the situation, her husband’s best friend is missing and presumed dead and her husband is falling apart from the stress of the disappearance.

Faced with the end of her career, Liza buckles down and starts a new novel. Her book focuses on a young Manhattan couple, Beth and Jake, new parents adjusting to life with their infant daughter. Beth’s normally engaged husband has begun pulling back, working long hours, and has grown intensely defensive about his activities and appointments. Beth suspects an affair but is terrified to confront Jake: what if he is cheating? Would she have to suffer a divorce and single-motherhood before her daughter was even two months old?

Beth grows clingy and desperate for signs that her husband has remained faithful, and her actions anger Jake and lead him to have her seek psychiatric care for post-partum depression. But her medical treatment does not calm Beth’s fears, but rather spur her on to find out the truth.

Liza’s struggle to write Beth’s story quickly vanishes, suddenly she can cannot stop the story from coming to her. She spends hours and hours writing as Beth, deeply steeped in Beth’s search to uncover her husbands secrets. But soon, Liza’s mind begins to blur her life and Beth’s; and Liza starts to find her own husband’s actions suspicious: is there something to it or is she spending too much time as Beth?

“The faithful often find themselves blindsided. They don’t suspect anything because they can’t imagine doing something so awful themselves.”

In the fictional story, Beth grows wild when she uncovers her husband’s affair and sees him with his lover. In real life, Liza grows more and more doubting of everything her husband tells her. Both women are accused of being over-emotional from hormones, both women have husbands who are acting cold and irrational, but only one of the women is facing a growing rage so strong it might lead to murder…or are they both?

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (2008)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Book #3

the cruelest month l penny

The worst of winter seems to be receding from the small, lovely village of Three Pines. Snow is melting, flowers are beginning to bloom, and the town residents are cheerfully preparing for the village’s Easter celebrations. In the opening chapters, readers get to catch up with some of the characters they have grown to love in the series’ first two books as they — along with some new faces — plan for egg hunts and potluck lunches.

At the local B&B, the proprietor Gabri has planned a surprise event for Easter weekend — a seance is to be held, lead by a psychic who is visiting the village for the holiday. Some villagers are appalled at the idea of raising the spirits of the dead: some protest that a seance is in bad taste because the town has been the site of two brutal murders in recent years. Others because it seems sacrilege to host a seance during the Easter holidays. A group of villagers who see it as a lark arrive at the B&B on Good Friday. While fun, the seance does not produce any ghosts; which the psychic suggests is because the B&B is too happy of a place and the guests at the seance too cheerful.

Why not try again, it is suggested, but this time, at the haunted Old Hadley House?

The second seance is much darker, the house’s horrific past seems to be much more conducive to calling up the dead. Indeed, the guests at this seance not only stir up the house’s ghosts, but they make a new one when a local woman named Madeline is scared to death during the event.

Once again, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called the the sleepy village to investigate when it becomes clear that Madeline’s death was not only because the woman was very frightened; her death was hastened when she was drugged by someone before the seance began, drugs that helped stop her heart.

By all accounts the dead woman was beloved by all and no one can imagine who would want her dead. Gamache and his team know that love can turn to hate over time, and that some murderers can hide their evil intent even from those closest to them.

As the case plods along, Gamache is introduced to the idea of the “near enemy” theory by town book-shop owner and psychologist, Myrna Landers. It is possible, he is told, that people can hide their true intentions behind the mask of another emotion. What on the surface looks like compassion can really — in the mind of a person with ill-intent — be pity. Some might see a person in love, but inside, he or she might really just be feeling obsessive attachment: a emotion that is dark and controlling. As Gamache begins to ponder this theory, he suspects that the “near enemy” is indeed at the heart of the case. The murder is masquerading as one type of person, while a more sinister and vindictive person lies underneath.

Yet another masterpiece of mystery fiction by Penny, filled with heart, wisdom, and compassion. On to the next book in the series, A Rule Against Murder.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Book #2

A_Fatal_Grace

In her second book in the outstanding Armand Gamache series, A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny takes us once again to the picture-perfect village of Three Pines in the days leading up to Christmas. Nestled in the mountains outside of Montreal, Three Pines is a small, sleepy, village filled with good people, cozy homes, and cheerful businesses. It is a place painted with such detail and heart by Penny that readers can imagine they are in the village along side the book’s characters: walking along the snowy town green, looking up at the towering pine trees by the lake, glancing in the windows of the tidy homes to see Christmas trees lit and fires roaring. Three Pines is a place everyone wishes to call home.

This Christmas, there is a dark stain sullying the village — CC de Poitiers. CC is hard woman who has alienated or insulted many of the villagers since her recent move to Three Pines. Along with her husband and daughter, CC is living in the old Hadley House, a house that looms over the town, a reminder of past horrors, of murder and pain. To her family, CC is hateful toward her daughter and cruel and dismissive of her husband. To the villagers in her new town, she is mean-spirited and largely detested. In a short time of living there, CC has managed to create a long list of people who could be called her enemies. But CC is possessed by a sort of madness, an obsession with herself that blinds her to how much others loathe her, all she cares about are her spiritual “teachings” that she is trying to bring to the (dull, stupid) world around her. She wants to enlighten these poor, backwoods slobs about the real truths of the universe; and she will stop at nothing until she has made millions leading the world down her “path”, which she calls Be Calm.

Despite the ill-will that CC has been spreading in town, Christmas finds the villagers happily celebrating their beloved holiday traditions: church, parties, shared meals, gift-giving, and well-wishes. One local tradition at Christmas is a Boxing Day breakfast and curling match that raises money for local charities. It is at this match the CC’s misdeeds catch up with her. She is electrocuted to death in front of the entire community, yet no one seems to have know who committed the crime.

Enter Armand Gamache, Chief Homicide Inspector for the Sûreté du Québec, and his investigative team who are dispatched from Montreal to solve the crime. Wise, patient, calm, and unfailingly kind, Gamache is known and liked in the town of Three Pines and utterly worshiped by his fellow officers. With his signature slow pace, intimate interview style, and his determination to examine the feelings of those involved in the crime; Gamache begins to piece together a list of suspects who might have wanted to kill CC…a list that is very, very long.

Through the ice, snow, and cold; Gamache and his team unearth the truth about who CC was and why she was such a hard, hateful woman and start to connect her to those people she had hurt, exploited, and abused, knowing that one of them was sure to be revealed as the killer.

Louise Penny is a brilliant writer and this book was utterly fantastic! Her prose is gorgeous; so poetic that it is almost spell-binding. Her words bring to life Three Pines in stunning detail and she presents us with characters who are so life-like it seems entirely possible that they will step off the pages of her book, as real as her readers. I have already started the next book in the series and cannot wait to read more about the characters — good and evil — Penny has brought to life.