Friday, October 13, 2017

Lucky Thirteen: Louse Penny's Newest Novel in the Three Pines Series

Since today is Friday the 13th, I have had to reexamine my own light case of superstition. If I really were concerned about this day's reputation for bad luck, I should be comforted by the number of four-leaf clovers crumbling in books throughout my house.  I thought it a funny coincidence, though, that on the 13th, I finished reading Glass Houses, the thirteenth in Louse Penny's Three Pines series. I do count it a stroke of luck that I started her books with Still Life a few years ago.

I'll admit that I had a preconceived idea about what to expect --a little light reading, a beach book. In fact, listening to the author interview at the end of the audiobook, I heard Penny describe readers telling her they thought she was ready now for literary fiction, as if what she writes isn't quite serious enough. I beg to differ.

I admit that I don't generally seek out mysteries, and I am reluctant to engage in a series--even one with just three of four books--because I don't want to overcommit. When I read these books, though, I feel intellectually stimulated, my senses are fully engaged, and yet, I also feel as if I am re-visiting characters I know well. The complex relationships between the characters are so insightful, delightful. Of course, I love Inspector Gamache, who has accepted the position of Chief Superintendent of the Surety du Quebec,  but I also love his wife Reine-Marie. I honestly believe Jean Guy Beauvoir, Gamache's son-in-law and second in command, may be the character I find most intriguing. He's such a foil character to his patron, and he's so complex and multi-dimensional. When he went through a dark period in one of the earlier novels, I felt almost physically ill.

In this book, the narrative opens with Gamache testifying  in a murder trial during a heat wave. The defendant remains unnamed for much of the story, as the back story develops. Among the usual villagers, Clara and Myrna, the poet Ruth and her pet duck Rosa, new characters have come to town. Four old college friends have returned for a reunion. Two new employees--a baker and a dishwasher--have come to the bistro and the boulangerie.  Once the body is found, everyone comes under suspicion.

In this story, though, the murder is almost secondary. First Penny introduces an oddly dressed stranger dressed as a cobrador, explained as a "debt collector" from Spanish lore. Woven into the story, though, is Gamache's challenge with the growing drug trade, particular heated this close to the United States border.  Some of the characters who have always stood for justice and right have to test that standard against what Ghandi referred to as the higher court: conscience.

Once again, Penny has kept me on edge and has left with with hope as Gamache ends the tale, whispering words of kindness to one of his own team, whom he regards as family. I am also left with hope that Penny keeps writer. I dread waiting a year for the next installment.