Book Review: Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In

Posted March 22, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In


Louise Penny

mystery that was published by Minotaur Books on August 27, 2013 and has 405 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Still Life, A Fatal Grace, A Rule Against Murder, The Cruelest Month, The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, The Hangman, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning

Ninth in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series set in Montreal and revolving around the inspector, his family, and his coworkers.

In 2014, How the Light Gets In won the Left Coast Crime Award for Calamari and was nominated in 2013 for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Goodreads Choice Award.

My Take

It’s a story within a story about family. There are families bound by blood while others are bound by a common goal or a similar outlook. It’s a binding that isn’t always positive, as Penny points out in Matthew 10:36 with its warning that “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household”. The series-long conflict that has been messing up Gamache’s life gains power and then there’s the case of the murdered woman. The only one left and the immensity of the betrayals that were heaped upon the woman and her family are overwhelming. And Penny spins us along — she made me nuts! — trailing tidbits and red herrings, including Ruth and her insecure fantasies!

Now that I’m going back and reading my notes to write this review, I shiver as I better understand Audrey’s actions. The hopes she has pinned on so shaky a foundation. And my heart breaks. I thought the start of How the Light Gets In was the fanciful imaginings of a paranoid woman. How wrong I was. You’ll understand when you get close to the end, and it will make your heart grow cold. Make you wonder how anyone can be so cold themselves.

Thank god for Gabri and his sense of humor, even if it isn’t enough to hold back your fears:

“I used to be as pure as the driven snow,” Gabri confided in Constance. “Then I drifted.”

What truly hurts is watching Isabelle drift, seeing her begin to wonder when she’ll turn on her mentor as well.

Part of the drama Penny brings to this story is how incredibly respected Gamache is in law enforcement departments throughout Canada. Adored, respected, idolized everywhere but in Québec.

A drama specific to How the Light Gets In is Penny’s teasing, hinting at how famous Constance is, but never telling us why. I must confess I was totally gobsmacked and very underwhelmed when we did finally learn why. Why her status would create such an aura of awe is beyond me.

I really want to go live in Three Pines. These people are amazing. They are so supportive, even if the village does average more murders than the norm.

I have no respect for Jean-Guy. He’s never had the patience or intuitiveness of Gamache, and no, it’s not fair for me to judge him on that. What I do judge him on is how he can so badly misinterpret, strangle the events of that warehouse — and you’ll learn a lot more about that ambush at the warehouse in this story. Then the betrayal at the end. God.

Then there’s Francoeur. My. God. The gall of the man. He orders death without a thought. Words fail me. The truth of him, his actions are so far beyond the pale that… I can’t. I just can’t. In some ways I can appreciate how his people get the gangs to turn on each other. It’s disgusting but efficient. But to tarnish innocents in the process! No.

There’s that trope again. The let’s-not-tell-anyone-what-I-know one. I hate that.

The story gets worse as you read of Francoeur destroying Gamache’s department. The people drafted in. The lack of respect they have for Gamache. But it’s worth it. You must read this. Just bear with it. Read. Read until you reach the end. For it is an end.

Always trust your instincts…and do what is right.

Francoeur isn’t the only bad entity. There’s also the Canadian government back in 1937. The lies that were told. The betrayals that occurred over and over, destroying a young family.

“…Henri already knew all he’d ever need. He knew he was loved. And he knew how to love.”

Be sure to take your blood pressure medication before reading.

The Story

A story that begins and ends with death in so many guises. It begins with a homicide department on the edge of annihilation, one that Gamache is eager to escape when a call comes in from a friend in Three Pines about a missing woman.

It continues as Gamache struggles to find the proof of the lies that are destroying the Sûreté.

The Characters

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the head of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, and it’s a dead-end job for him. His past actions have ensured the hatred of those at the top. His wife, Reine-Marie, is in Paris for Christmas with their son and his family. Daniel and Roslyn have two children: Florence and Zora. A family whom Francoeur is threatening. Henri is Gamache’s rescued German shepherd. Annie Gamache is his recently divorced daughter who has been in love with Beauvoir forever. They were living together until she threw him out. And no, not for the reasons you’ll think.

La Sûreté du Québec

Inspector Isabelle Lacoste is one of the very few of Gamache’s chosen to still be in the department. She’s married with a family that includes a daughter, Mélanie. Most of the other detectives are defects, spies, and plants dumped on Gamache to destroy his department.

Superintendent Thér&egravese Brunel had been trained by Gamache and has surpassed him in rank. Her husband (who also loves puzzles and justice), Dr. Jérôme Brunel, has retired from being head of emergency services. Dr. Fleury is Gamache’s cocky and arrogant therapist. I still can’t tell if he’s in on it all.

Agent Yvette Nichol is the sneering, anti-social agent who may be working for Francoeur, but is a whiz on computers.

Montreal PD
Chief Inspector Marc Brault is the head of Homicide.

Gamache’s enemies
Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur is Gamache’s boss and has had it in for him since Gamache brought the evil within the Sûreté to light. After the sabotage in The Beautiful Mystery, 8, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s friend, Annie’s lover, has transferred out from Homicide and into Francoeur’s department. Inspector Martin Tessier is Francoeur’s second-in-command and with Serious Crimes. Charpentier is with Cyber Crimes?? Chief Inspector Lambert is the head of Cyber Crimes.

Pierre Arnot was chief superintendent of the Sûreté before Gamache took him down.

The villagers at Three Pines
Ruth Zardo is an award-winning poet of Canada and meaner than a snake. But she does have room in her heart for Rosa, the orphan duck. Myrna Landers is a former psychologist and now owns the New and Used Bookstore. Gabri Dubeau and Olivier Brulé run the bistro and the B&B. Sarah is the bakery while Monsieur Béliveau owns the general store. Clara Morrow is an artist who has finally “arrived”, famous for her portraits, although it meant she booted her beloved husband, Peter, out. Emilie Longpré‘s home is still vacant. Gilles and Odile are, respectively, a fabulous handcrafted furniture maker and a really bad poet. Gilles also puts up satellite dishes. Billy Williams plows the streets.

Aimée Patterson and Etienne are some of the hockey players Ruth coaches.

Constance Pineault, a.k.a., Constance Ouellet, is an old friend, an old patient of Myrna’s who may have finally found a haven. She is, was, one of the Ouellet quints taken over by the state back during the Depression. The first sister to die was Virginie. Her sisters Hélène, Josephine, and Marguerite have also died. MA is a mystery. André Pineault is an uncle. Annette Michaud and her husband are neighbors to Constance.

Isidore Ouellet and Marie-Harriette Pineault were Constance’s parents. Dr. Bernard was a snotty, lazy publicity hound. I’d like to smack him around the block a few times. Father Antoine is the parish priest these days.

Audrey Villeneuve worked for the Ministry of Transport. Gaétan Villeneuve was her husband and Megan and Christianne are their daughters. Celeste is their neighbor. Lili Dufour works with Reine-Marie at the Bibliothèque nationale. Georges Renard is the Premier of Québec.

Les Services Aqueduct is a bankrupt company that morphed into other things. A Pierre Arnot worked there once. The Oratoire Saint-Joseph housed Brother André who healed anyone who could make it up those stairs. The Champlain Bridge is the busiest in Canada.

The SHU is the Special Handling Unit at the maximum security penitentiary. Captain Monette is the new head guard. Adam Cohen is another new man.

The Cover and Title

The cover is beautiful as always. An open area in the wintry forest, the sun rising up in the distance, its warm yellow and orange light brightening the deep lilac woods, sending the deeper purple shadows of trees radiating outward, and promising a ray of hope for the future day.

The title has got to be a joke for Gamache and How the Light Gets In to brighten his day.