Sunday, February 12, 2012

And so...A Trick of the Light

At the risk of repeating myself, I'll mention again that I think the term "cozy" is outdated as a genre descriptor. While it may have applied to Louise Penny's first or second novels about the little Canadian village of Three Pines, the term is no longer appropriate. There is nothing "cozy" about Ms. Penny's Armand Gamache series of 7 sophisticated crime novels (number 8 is in the hopper for August release) and she continues to reap accolades from reviewers worldwide.

I have to admit that I have not read these novels in order (sorry Cath) and I realize now that I did myself a disservice because much of the back story in the latest book revolves around an horrific accident that happened in the previous one in which Chief Inspector Gamache and his loyal second in command, Jean Guy de Beauvoir, were ambushed in a warehouse shootout, each suffering serious injuries.

PTSD affects each sufferer uniquely. For Jean Guy it means obsessing over the video of the catastrophe, leaked to the press and now viral on the Internet. He watches it over and over and over again, reaching a dangerous conclusion that we worry may affect his previous father/son relationship with Armand. To add to this complication Jean Guy, when facing death, realized that he needed to make some major life changes, one of which was to admit to himself that he was and always has been in love with Armand Gamache's daughter Annie.

Penny expertly juggles several disparate threads over the course of her novels. One of those threads that comes to the forefront in this book is that of the strained marriage of Peter and Clara Morrow. They are both artists living in Three Pines, but Clara has always subsumed her artistic endeavors, relinquishing her time and talent to Peter's, which is considered to be more saleable. Unspoken resentment and jealousy curdle below the surface when Clara, who's been sculpting and painting in obscurity for 25 years, is suddenly "discovered" and given a one woman gallery show of her own.

But as the glowing reviews and calls of congrats roll in the following day, the joy is drained from Clara's sense of accomplishment by the discovery of a body with a broken neck lying among the flowers in her garden. The Surete de Quebec takes up residence in Three Pines to begin the investigation and, in the process, readers are treated to a fascinating look inside the competitive, nasty, world of artists and galleries.

Ms. Penny excels at psychologically astute characterizations, from the seemingly unimportant background characters like the wonderfully drawn poet and town crank, Ruth, to the owners of the local B & B, to Clara and Peter, Gamache, his wife, Beauvoir and Beauvoir's mentee, agent LaCoste. She builds the suspense slowly but deftly until the reader is so invested there's no chance of leaving her books unread. She buries enough red herrings to throw even the best armchair detectives off base. In other words Louise Penny is a master of chiaroscuro. (look it up, I had to!)

Visit her website at to get a full sense of all seven books in the series and treat yourself so her blog posts to get a full sense of the delightful woman who writes them.

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