Book Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses
A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel #13
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-2500-6619-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Chief Inspector Gamache, who now resides there, knows something is wrong.  Yet since no laws are being broken, he does nothing.  But a shadow falls over Three Pines, and unease sets into the community.  Soon the figure disappears, and not long after, a body is discovered.  During the ensuing investigation and later, when a trial begins against the accused, Gamache considers the events he set into motion long ago, disastrous means to an uncertain end, and if there will be a reckoning.  “This case began in a higher court,” he says at his testimony.  “And it’s going to end there.”  And regardless of the trial’s outcome, Gamache understands that in the end, he will have to face his conscience.  A gripping and haunting mystery, “Glass Houses” explores what Gandhi called the court of conscience and asks us, when the chips are down, is there a court that supersedes all?

This is the 12th book in the series, all of which take place in and around the aforementioned Quebec village of Three Pines, variously described as lost, hidden in the hills, and not on any map or GPS, in the middle of nowhere, and a place where “getting lost was almost a prerequisite for finding the place.”   All the residents of the village are present, and the many fans of the series will welcome them: Gamache, former Chief Inspector of the Surete, a post now held by Isabella Lacoste, Gamache now the Superintendent, heading up the division that oversees Homicide and Serious Crimes; his wife, Reine-Marie; Myrna, a large black woman who runs a new and used bookstore and was once a prominent psychologist in Montreal [referred to by others in the novel as “a verbal speed bump”]; Ruth Zardo, an eccentric, award-winning and “demented old” poet, and Rosa, her beloved pet duck; Gabri and Olivier, the lovers who run the bistro and the B&B; Monsieur Beliveau, the grocer; Clara Morrow, an artist and portraitist; as well as Henri, Gamache’s German shepherd; Jean-Guy Beauvoir, second in command in the Surete [formerly Gamache’s second in command] and now married to his daughter; and Madeleine Toussaint, the first woman in charge of Serious Crimes and the first Haitian to head up any department. Three Pines, and its residents, remain as charming as ever.

Shortly after the book opens, a trial is about to begin, the defendant being accused of the above-mentioned murder, Gamache being a key witness, the judge one Maureen Corriveau, handling her first murder case, a murder which seemingly had no motive behind it.  The identity of the defendant is withheld from the reader until much later in the novel.  The villain in the piece, a figure known as “the cobrador,” is a fascinating creation, apparently with its origin in Spain, in fact a Spanish debt collector, who followed and shamed people into paying their debts.

There is much here that is timely, dealing as it does with issues of drug/opiod use/abuse [present in our newspapers on almost a daily basis], and political corruption, among other things of national importance today.  As always the writing is never less than elegant, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.