Boswell Books in Milwaukee is packed with author events as well as books. If there’s not something going on every night of the week, it sure seems like it. My husband and I attended a book launch there in mid-August and, in the process, I discovered a new writer.
Louise Penny is a latecomer to writing. After retiring in her 30s from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to write, it took her five years to complete her first novel, Still Life. Lack of interest from agents and publishers almost kept the book from being published, but persistence paid off. That book became the first in a series of Chief Inspector Gamache books. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a homicide detective with the Sûreté du Québec, and How the Light Gets In is the ninth tale in his saga.
I had never heard of Louise Penny, and I was surprised to learn that she was such a prolific mystery writer. I love mysteries, especially series if I like the lead. None of the characters she chatted about at the launch party meant anything to me, but I liked her a lot. She was funny and smart and self-deprecating, and I was intrigued by what she had to say about Québec and her struggles with writing. For the price of attendance, we got refreshments (including Canada’s signature fast food dish poutine with cheese curds and brown gravy) and a signed copy of the book. It was a well spent $25.
I devoured the book nearly overnight, cooled in the Milwaukee heat by the wintry chill of the Québec winter. In How the Light Gets In, Chief Inspector Gamache is dealing with a murder in the quaint, off-the-beaten-path town of Three Pines at Christmastime. But, he’s also dealing with the demise of his career and the disintegration of his friendship with his longtime second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir.
I would describe the writing as spare or lean, meaning not flowery or overly descriptive, and yet it’s not stingy. I felt very much part of the world Gamache and the townspeople of Three Pines inhabit, and the emotions were palpable. The main mystery was suspenseful; the subplots were also engaging and surprising. It was a great read, and I’m now painting in the backstory by reading Still Life.
How lucky I am to have another seven books after this one to keep me grounded in Three Pines!