Minotaur, 400 pages, $28.99
Louise Penny torments her readers with tender grace. She not only plots a mystery, she also tells the ongoing stories of many of the residents of the tiny village of Three Pines*, Québec. It all takes a mighty fistful of pages. She draaaaws out the mysteries in “Glass Houses,” then suddenly swishes a piece of jagged glass cleanly through with a surprise twist. It’s a merciful killing after a long, exquisite torture.
Penny is known for her slow buildup of the who-what-when-where-whydunnit of her story. In this case, there are several stories, one the continuation of main character Armand Gamache’s continuing fight against corruption in the police force. Now he is the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec and in a position to really do something about it. Also, opiate use has run amok in Canada, as it has in the United States. There is a line of no return that might already have gone by, with no chance of curbing the illegal import and export of the increasingly strong drugs being manufactured.
Closer to home, Gamache’s quiet village is suddenly haunted by a death-costumed character who stands on the village green. It makes no sound, rarely moves, appears to have no agenda. It simply stands in mute criticism. Of what or whom is unknown. A pall descends on village life. Armand and his village confidantes — his wife, the bookseller, the artist, the daughter, the son-in-law, the B&B and bistro couple, and the cranky poet with a duck — discuss what is to be done about the unwanted visitor. It has broken no law, and although the villagers want it gone, there is nothing Gamache, powerful as he is, can do about it. (How about loitering?)
I am always reminded of the epithets of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” whenever I read Penny — e.g., rosy-fingered dawn, gray-eyed Athena. Each of Penny's serial characters has repeated attributes, especially the cranky poet, Ruth, and her expletive-spewing duck. Her readers must get into the leisurely rhythm and repetition of her style of storytelling. “Glass Houses” is the lucky thirteenth book in Penny’s Gamache series, and there has been ample time to study the continuing characters.
On a more poignant note, her recent books have also allowed her readers to follow her real life a bit. In her acknowledgements, Penny has referred to her husband, Michael. She mentioned his Alzheimer’s diagnosis at the end of one book. And at the end of “Glass Houses,” she talks about his death. Her work is imbued with the kindness and compassion of the kind that must infuse her real life.
(*Haha. I originally posted "Lone Pine," which is a town in California, instead of the fictional "Three Pines." Mea culpa.)