Review: How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2013

Author Louise Penny has woven a masterpiece of characters, plot and evocative description in her latest mystery. How the Light Gets In traces the investigation of an elderly woman’s murder while at the same time continuing a plot thread that’s been building from the series beginning.

You could jump into the series here and understand this book, but you’d miss so much of the larger story that’s been building around Inspector Gamache after his long-ago case that exposed a scandal high in the ranks of the Quebec Sȗreté force. And you wouldn’t know and love the characters enough to be emotionally affected by their turmoil.

This is a series well worth starting at the beginning, with Still Life. If you’ve seen the CBC television special, that was a teaser. The novel is richer, deeper and more satisfying and couldn’t be contained in such a short film. Louise Penny’s prose is beautiful.

Those who’ve read the previous books will be glad to be back in the idyllic fictional village of Three Pines, located somewhere outside of Montreal. It’s good to see the eclectic and unusual inhabitants of the village again, and the village itself feels like a character in the novels.

Inspector Armand Gamache is one of my fictional heroes, largely because of his practice of taking cast-off members of the police force and investing enough leadership in them to help them find their places as effective and motivated officers. Those he’s helped are (mostly) intensely loyal, while those he’s crossed are formidable.

I’ve enjoyed each book in the series, but this one (number nine) is the best yet. The tension is high, three significant plot threads interweave seamlessly, the characters shine, and the ending surprises. A most satisfying read.

Because most of what I review are Christian books, I’ll add a disclaimer for this series. The profanity count is high and there is a homosexual couple, complete with innuendoes. Institutional church is not well-thought-of by many characters, but the idea of God is present (both Christian and generic).

I will also say I’ve found truth in these books. Louise Penny understands humans in our glory and in our shame, and she crafts exceptional characters and intriguing mysteries. She also understands qualities like love and loyalty, hope and perseverance, and redemption.

Louise Penny has given readers a gift, and I’m glad to see her novels getting the attention and awards they deserve. If you’ve missed these books so far, do yourself a favour and begin with Still Life. For your own peace of mind, when you get to The Beautiful Mystery be sure to pick up How the Light Gets In at the same time. Those of us who’ve had to wait a year between them can tell you it hasn’t been easy.

To learn more about the author, you can visit You’ll find a list of the books, in order (note that some have different titles depending on which country you’re in) as well as background information, discussion questions and events.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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