It’s not quite the same as the anticipation for a new Harry Potter book, but I’ll admit to pre-ordering Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In, which I don’t think I’ve done since Harry #7. It arrived early in the morning on my Kindle, so I read the first two chapters before I went to work and then read as much as I could here and there (new habit: carrying the Kindle in my bag. Reading in restaurants, in my office, at traffic lights — just kidding about that last).
Within the larger arc, each book has a murder mystery for Inspector Armand Gamache and his team to solve. This one begins with Myrna, the owner of a bookstore in Three Pines, calling Gamache because her friend Constance has gone missing. When Gamache finds her body, murdered in her own home, Myrna has to admit that Constance was the last of the Ouellet quintuplets — the only living quints ever when they were born in the 1930s, a miracle brought about by their mother’s desperate plea to a Canadian saint, his last miracle on earth. They were as famous as Princess Elizabeth, and even more photographed. Yet Constance was the last remaining quint, and none of them had been very happy. Gamache is quickly convinced that her death had to be related to her birth, so he goes to the national archives to dig into the quints’ past.
In the meantime, though, the Sûreté du Québec is crumbling around him. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, one of his closest comrades deserted him, and from then until this book picks up scores of others in his department have been moved or requested transfers out of Homicide, leaving only Agent Isabelle Lacoste to be trusted: all of the replacements are lazy, angry, cynical or downright bad human beings. It’s clear that all of this is part of some larger plot of people at levels higher than Gamache’s in the Sûreté.
In reviews of previous books I’ve complained about Gamache being too perfectly perfect, and there’s an element of that here, too. There’s one thing involving a text message to an enemy that I can’t for the life of me figure out how Gamache would’ve known in advance should be sent or how it would be received by said enemy, yet the fact that it was sent and received is significant to the resolution of the plot. It makes him seem a little omnipotent.
Despite that, Gamache can’t handle the corruption situation without help from his friends. First and foremost he relies on Thérèse Brunel, a superintendent at the Sûreté, and her husband Jérôme, who risk their own careers, if not lives, to help him investigate. A close second are the people of Three Pines, the village hidden in the hills, inaccessible to electronic communication and not located on any map. Recognizing that something is very wrong, they step up to help and to protect their old friend Gamache. And then there are a couple of Gamache’s former officers, who may or may not be trustworthy. Things have gotten so bad that Gamache just has to hope they’ll come through for him. In the end it will all hinge on them.
To say that I couldn’t put it down might be a cliché, but it’s also the truth. No, it’s not Harry Potter, but it’s close to being the crime fiction version of that series. Read them all, and read them in order.