How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering,
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
The lyrics of this Leonard Cohen song ‘Anthem’ provided the inspiration for the title of the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel by Canadian bestselling author Louise Penny. The cracks have steadily deepened over the course of the novels featuring the head of the Sûreté du Québec. How the Light Gets In sees the Chief Inspector in a particularly vulnerable position in his battle against the corruption he believes has penetrated to the heart of the police force.
Most of his best agents have been despatched to other duties, replaced by a team that is hostile and insolent towards him. Of more personal concern to Gamache is the fracture in the previously close relationship he enjoyed with his police partner Jean-Guy Beauvoir. They had worked together for 15 years, Gamache as the mentor and then the prospective father in law, until a dramatic shoot out in the last novel, destroyed Beauvoir’s trust in his leader. Now he has gone over to Gamache’s arch rival, Chief Superintendent Francouer, a man with few scruples who callously manipulates Beauvoir into drug addition in order to further his plan to take full control of the Sûreté.
Gamache is not the kind of man who will sit back and wait for this to happen. But after a potentially violent confrontation in police headquarters even his confidence wavers.
Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed that light would banish the shadows… He believed that evil had its limits. But looking at the young men and women staring at him now, who’d seen something terrible about to happen and had done nothing, Chief Inspector Gamache wondered if he could have been wrong all this time. Maybe the darkness sometimes won. Maybe evil had no limits.
Fortunately he still has a few friends in high places when he needs them. But none of them could ever have imagined the monstrous nature of Francouer’s real ambition and the revelation of a conspiracy that goes to the heart of the country.
While How the Light Gets In develops into a battle between good an evil on an epic scale, Penny makes her readers wait for the denouement by introducing side stories that seemingly have no connection to the main plot. This main story involves the murder of an elderly woman who turns out to be the last surviving member of a set of quintriplets born during the Great Depression, whose lives were lived in a bubble of fame. Another narrative thread involves the suspected suicide of a middle aged government worker. Both events turn out to be connected though we don’t discover how until the final chapters of the book.
As in many of the earlier novels in the series, the plot requires Gamache to return to the small village community of Three Pines and to renew his friendship with its inhabitants. Gabi and Oliver who run the bistro; Myrna the bookshop owner; Clara the artist and the acerbic highly talented poet Ruth Zardo all get roped in to help Gamache solve the murder. Their friendship with Gamache puts them in the path of danger however as the forces seeking to destroy Gamache follow him to this remote village. Can the villagers protect Gamache? Will Beauvoir be able to rescue his chief? Will Gamache ever see the light of goodness return? I’m not about to spoil the suspense by revealing the answers – you’ll just have to read the book for yourself.
Read it for its carful plotting. Read it for its delightful portrayal of a community and its quirky inhabitants. But more especially read it for Penny’s subtle portrayal of her central character. We’re used to fictional police chiefs who have their faults and their demons. Gamache doesn’t come from the same damaged mould as Morse or Wallander but that doesn’t render him any the less interesting. He is a man who exudes kindness and respect; a man moreover of absolute integrity who believes that there is goodness in the world and its his job to make sure it never gets extinguished.
Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed the light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits.
A new edition of How the Light Gets In was published in paperback in the UK in November 2014. Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley.
Many of the earlier books in the series can be read out of sequence but before reading How the Light Gets In you’ll want to read its predecessor The Beautiful Mystery which explains the breakdown between Gamache and Beauvoir.
14 thoughts on “How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny”
Love these books, but have listened to them all on audio!
I loved Beautiful Mystery so bought it on audio after reading the book thinking that the publishers would have introduced some music so we could hear what Gamache heard. But sadly no. What a missed opportunity.
might be a licensing issue – how would the musicians get the proper financial credit? Or simply a missed opportunity.
Meawhile I believe that a CD to go with Vikram Seth’s novel “A Simple Music” came out way back when, but I never got it and not sure it’s still available
I suppose they would have used the royalties system
True! My husband does Gregorian chant, so I had a good sense of it from that. Ralph Cosham does an amazing job narrating all the books!
I bought a CD of chants so I could get into the mood
I just started this series and absolutely love it so far!!
I read the first few and then the last few but haven’t tackled the middle ones yet. I’m almost reacts t to read them too close together because then they would all be gone.
‘How the Light Gets In’ was my first Louise Penney novel I’ve read, and I absolutely loved it. It has odd characters, a Quebec setting, and an exciting conclusion. Can’t ask for more than that.
Those characters in Three Pines are definitely quirky but somehow she makes them feel real. I’m sure they could become irritating in the hands of a different author. The other novels are a but quieter than this one but still well worth reading.
I’ve been quite curious about this series and kicked up a couple of the titles via kindle. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.
They get stronger the more she settles into the series. I love the way she creates the setting of Three Pines, it makes me wish I loved there. Hope you enjoy reading her Guy.
I’ve got a copy of this to read (again, via Netgalley). This will be my first in the series, so hopefully i wont be a total fish out of water!
You should be able to follow it without too much problem though of course the breakdown I relationship with Jean Guy has its origins earlier in the series