Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13), Louise Penny

Nine stars

Louise Penny continues to impress with new and exciting story angles to enrich this already alluring series. Fans of these novels will surely find something here to whet their appetites or at least provide something with which they can relate. On the night of the Three Pines Hallowe’en celebration, many of the townsfolk notice a mysterious figure dressed in black. He stands in the town square, not speaking, but his menacing glare cannot be missed. Soon identified as a cobrador del frac, this man serves as a debt collector, though he does not speak, which only adds to the mystery. Which townsperson might he be here to see and what have they done? Cobradors are common in Spain as a last ditch effort to shame a person into settling their debts, but their more historic service has been as a conscience to push a person to see their error and do right, all without uttering a word. When Katie Evans is found murdered in the church basement, dressed in the cobrador outfit, many wonder who might have done this and whether the mysterious man could be responsible and have fled the scene. Newly promoted Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache seeks to better understand the entire situation, particularly since he now resides in Three Pines. However, his attention is divided between this and a major covert operation being undertaken by senior members of the Sûreté du Québec, seeking to bring down a major drug cartel. This will be extremely delicate and require much patience, with each decision potentially blowing their cover. In an odd turn of events, the narrative splits between these storylines in the past and a trial for the murder of Katie Evans, with Gamache on the stand and seeming to work with the Crown to bring down an unknown defendant. As the story unfolds, the Three Pines residents learn more about what Evans might have done to require such a mysterious guest. It also permits each resident to look inside themselves to explore their own faults and what they might be able to do differently; almost as if they were peering into their own glass house. Definitely a unique reading experience as I see things from a variety of perspectives, which only goes to show that Penny does not want her readers resting on their laurels. I would highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

I have finally completed this major Louise Penny binge, reading her entire collection of Gamache novels that have been released, with one more set to land on my iPod in the coming weeks. I have come to see a great deal of development in the series, both in the settings—particularly Three Pines—and the characters, especially Armand Gamache, the constant protagonist. Some readers have been critical of such a major undertaking, reading/breathing nothing but Armand Gamache for an extended period. They comment that it only serves to supersaturate me with his quirks, though I found the undertaking quite sobering. I noticed a few of the series nuances lost to the reader who relies on annual instalments of the progress all characters make. While Gamache spent much of his time in this series as the Chief Inspector of Homicide, where he led one of the most prestigious teams in the country, his personal growth emanates from the pages of each novel. Through some significant turmoil, he left the Sûreté du Québec, as series readers will know well, an inner fight between professional decisions and personal sentiment. Returning to the fold in the last two novels, Gamache has shown that he is a quintessential part of the police force and, while some still see him as a major disturbance, he is the one needed to steer it back into calm waters. Gamache proves to be a leader who may not be sullied with corruption, but whose record remains somewhat unimpressive. He seeks not only to continue delivering sage advice, but also use stern leadership skills to keep his subordinates in line. He has grown significantly throughout the series and this novel is no exception. Gamache connects well with the reader, though there is always some degree of distance the protagonist demands with each developing narrative. Other characters of note include the recurring townsfolk of Three Pines, each with their quirks and hilarious banter. I have come to love some of them and await the disappearance of others. One cannot make it through a book in the series without at least one squabble between two of these unique characters, though it lightens the mood as the reader is usually ensconced in some deeper mystery at the time. Jean Guy Beauvoir is back, working alongside Gamache, while continuing to grow as a worthwhile son-in-law and battling his own recovery from significant addiction. I have come to see much growth in him as well, though I sense that he petered out a few novels ago, perhaps Penny’s way of punishing him for being so judgmental. The story here was quite unique and held my attention throughout. The title perfectly parallels some of the themes within the book and keeps the reader wanting to know a little more before reaching the climax and complete reveal. While I have come to the end of the binge, I can see great things for Penny, should she continue the series well into the future. It is a stunning Canadian police procedural that mixes great writing with poignant Canadian references, which warms the soul. I am so pleased I undertook the journey and am eager to continue later this month with the latest instalment. While I said it before, highest recommendations for anyone seeking to delve into a well-crafted series that does not disappoint most readers.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for allowing me to be fully committed throughout the series. This is a binge I will not soon forget or regret!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: