Title: How the Light Gets In
Authors: Louise Penny
Star Rating: * * * * *
Note: Heavy spoilers throughout the entire review!
After the events in A Beautiful Mystery, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself almost alone in his battle against those in Sûreté who want to destroy him. He and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir have not spoken in months, the homicide department has been gutted and stacked with disloyal agents, and it seems like Gamache is about to lose everything that he has worked for during his career. However, the Chief Inspector is not ready to give in quite yet.
There are two central plots being dealt with in this book. As with each of the novels, a murder has been committed, and it once again involves the village of Three Pines. One of Myrna’s acquaintances was murdered in her home as she was packing to visit, and during the investigation it comes out that she was one of the famous Ouellet quintuplets. To solve this case, Gamache must explore her background as a child used by her country as a commodity, and try to uncover who could have possibly wanted to violently murder a quiet woman who had absolutely no friends or close loved ones.
As he attempts to solve this mystery, Gamache is also trying to root out corruption in the Sûreté and determine exactly who managed to avoid capture during the infamous Arnot case. As he gets closer to exposing the closely held secrets of his enemies, he and his allies must flee Montreal for their safety. Who can they trust to help them, if anyone, and can they figure out what Gamache’s enemies are planning before more people die?
The Everything About This Book is Wonderful
I want to write a love letter to this book. Admittedly, I have been a devoted fan of this series since I stumbled across The Cruelest Month several years ago, and I have only grown to love the story more and more as new additions come out. The mysteries are fun and detailed, the characters are delightful, and these novels feel like a perfect blend of British cottage mysteries with a dash of modern grit.
Perhaps one of my favourite things about Penny’s work is how she has been so adept at weaving a complicated and long-running plot into her books alongside the mysteries featured in each novel. How the Light Gets In is the ninth addition to this series, and all of what we have learned about Gamache, Quebec, and the Sûreté is relevant and necessary for the resolution to this story. Characters have undergone significant changes, and there are serious consequences attached to the choices that they all have made. While the book-specific mysteries have always been interesting and complex, it was very satisfying to see a final outcome to the issues that Gamache has been dealing with since before the events of the very first book.
I have also greatly enjoyed the unique format that Penny has used in her novels. The Gamache series has a lot in common with British cottage mysteries, and usually in these types of stories, the characters all remain in a specific area, sometimes as small as a single house. In Penny’s work, the central area of focus was Three Pines, a tiny village north of Montreal. However, she has taken her characters outside of this town on multiple occasions. This expansion of the setting gives the series a feeling of depth, and allows the village to be constructed as a place of peace in comparison to the chaos and destruction of the rest of the world (despite all the murders, that is). How the Light Gets In features a return to the village after several books in different spaces (save for A Trick of the Light), an appropriate move for a story that is reaching such a significant conclusion. However, while the village has been a place of peace, in this book, its isolation is broken, and the safe space that it has become for Gamache is breached. The danger being faced is greater than what the inhabitants of the town have confronted before, and this increases the tension felt by readers.
Finally, I have great respect for authors who know when to end their plots. While it is a wonderful feeling to fall in love with characters and worlds, stories are not usually endless. Stretching a series out too long usually strips it of its enjoyable features. I do not know if How the Light Gets In is the last book in the Gamache series, but if it is, I feel perfectly fine leaving these characters at this point in their development. The conclusion feels complete, and the characters deserved this ending. If How the Light Gets In is not the end of the series, it is a big changing point and this is equally as pleasing. The author will be able to move in a completely new direction, and many different types of stories could be explored. Either way, the author recognised that her plot needed to be finished before it dragged out and became boring and muddled, and she finished it with aplomb.
The Bad (what little I could find)
Normally, this is the section in my reviews where I rant on for quite a while. Critique is something that I am good at (being a legal academic and all), and I enjoy trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work in fiction. However, with this book, I really don’t know what to put here. I honestly enjoyed this novel in its entirety. Trying to put myself in the place of a reader who is not me, however, I can see a few things that might be bothersome for some. The first involves the conclusion of the corruption plot that has been running throughout the series. Near the end of the novel, the primary orchestrator of these schemes is revealed as the (fictional) premier of Quebec. All of the corruption was part of a plot for political power, including an attempt to bring about Quebec separation. Some may think that this conspiracy was too exaggerated and could never occur, but while it is fiction, the author writes with an understanding of the political and social history of Quebec. The emotional responses that the Premier hoped to ignite are not impossibilities according to Quebec’s past, and Penny is obviously drawing on some of the darker aspects of the federalism and separatism debate.
Another nitpick one may have with the book is that it deals a lot with computer hacking, and the author’s descriptions of what is occurring during these hacking scenes may not be entirely accurate. I am not a particularly technologically inclined person, so this didn’t bother me, but others may find it annoying.
Finally, some people might not like the fact that the resolution to this series occurred quickly and ended so happily. Relationships are mended, justice is delivered, and Gamache gets to retire in the village that he has grown to love so much. There is a time skip at the very end of the book that takes readers from the explosive climax of the story to a wedding several months later, but the information readers need to fill in these blanks is given, and readers should know the characters enough by now to see how these changes make sense even without being able to see all of them. Having an extended denouement would have lessened the impact of the final scenes, and added little of interest to the story.
How the Light Gets In is an absolutely fantastic novel and a brilliant addition to an amazing series. It is a well-crafted conclusion to a series-long plot, as well as an enjoyable mystery on its own. I would not recommend reading this book without having picked up the first eight novels in the series, but they are all in my favourites collection so you should go out and read them right away! This book is well-deserving of a five-star rating, and I am certain that I will reread it many many times in the future. It’s fun, suspenseful, intriguing, and emotionally satisfying, so get yourself to a bookstore and grab a copy!