‘How the Light Gets In’ by Louise Penny (2013) – 404 pages
“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” – ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen
I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I keep my eyes and ears open for superior books of any genre. When I saw that the mystery ‘How the Light Gets In’ was appearing on many of the lists for Best Fiction of 2013, I decided this was a novel I would read. As it turns out, ‘How the Light Gets In’ is an excellent book of fiction regardless of category.
First, this novel has several eccentric colorful characters and an exotic location in the small (fictional?) town of Three Pines in French-speaking Quebec. The murder mystery is a mash up on probably the most famous true story to come out of this area of Canada, the Dionne quintuplets. The story of the Dionne quintuplets and how the Canadian government took them over is intriguing in itself.
However the main reason to read this book is the strong lead of Chief Inspector Armond Gamache. He is not only trying to solve a murder case. Rot and corruption have beset the very top executive levels of his own department, the crime investigation unit. His bosses are out to destroy Inspector Gamache. His department “was now a culture that rewarded cruelty. That promoted it.” Gamache must fight his own bosses in order to save himself, his friends, his family and even the city of Montreal.
“Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed that light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places.”
The ‘corruption in high places’ storyline leads this novel to go well beyond its mystery genre. The stakes are high; this is a suspenseful page-turner.
Quebec is the largest province in Canada extending from the Arctic Circle to the border of the United States. The area where ‘How the Light Gets In’ takes place, the picturesque little village of Three Pines, is actually south of much of Maine. The influence of the French culture and language makes this a fascinating different locale for the story. The local characters including Ruth and her pet duck Rosa will stay in your mind.
This is a gripping thriller of a man and his friends fighting against nearly insurmountable odds in a life-and-death struggle with powerful enemies. It is not necessary to have read the other Inspector Gamache books to appreciate this story. I have not read any other of the works of Louise Penny, but after reading ‘How the Light Gets In’, I will certainly come back to her.