Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Hangman by Louise Penny

First Sentence: Armand Gamache didn’t like what he was looking at, but then, few people would.

A guest at the Inn and Spa in Three Pines is found hanged by a jogger. Inspector Armand Gamache and his deputy Jean-Guy Beauvoir are sent to investigate. The question is whether this is a suicide or murder.

This novella was written for Canada’s Literacy Project at the Grade 3 level for adult readers. The style and plot are very simple and, where characters in the series books, would use French words or phrases, English is used here. Even so, this is a wonderfully written story.

The underlying question is “why?”. Why was the man there? Whether by his own hand or that of another, why did he die? There is another question of “why” but I refuse to give away a major plot point.

This is yet another example of Ms. Penny’s skill and quality of storytelling even for those of us way above Grade 3 level reading. Do not, however, confuse that for meaning the story has been ‘dumbed-down’. Not at all. It has all the elements that define an excellent tale with its strong sense of place, excellent characters, wonderfully done and natural dialogue. Although the structure and language may be fairly simple, the plot twist is not and the motive leaves us thinking.

The Hangman” is complete unto itself and a wonderful read, no matter your age or reading level.

THE HANGMAN (Pol Proc-CI Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – Short Story
Grass Roots Press – 2010

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  Pandora was still pretty.
A suspected suicide is found at the base of the Champlain Bridge.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is still dealing with the forces at the highest level of the Sûreté du Québec set on destroying his career.  He is without his college and friend Jean-Guy Beauvoir, yet determined to learn what is the motive.  A trip to Three Pines is prompted when Gamache receives a call of Myrna, owner of the used bookstore.  An acquaintance of hers had visited and was due back for Christmas but hadn’t returned or been heard from.   These three seemingly disparate threads come to be one of Gamache’s most dangerous cases of his life.
It is not easy to describe the images that go through the mind of a phobic, yet Ms. Penny does and does it brilliantly.  That is just the beginning of another book by this incomparable author.  There are some who mistakenly classify Ms. Penny’s books as “cozies.”  They are not.  They are multi-layered character studies.  Even though set in the seemingly idyllic town of Three Pines, her stories reinforce the fact that darkness can intrude anywhere. 
Penny’s characters are wonderful.  They are not perfect people but ones which are very human, with strengths, weaknesses, faults, and enormous depths.  Ruth is a literary treasure.  Gamache is a man of integrity and principle; someone to be admired and exemplified yet with blind spots of his own.   The town of Three Pines is a character onto itself.  It may be imaginary, yet the town and its residents, are brought to life. 
Her descriptions are evocative…”But this was the snow of her childhood.  Joyful, playful, bright and clean.  The more the merrier.  It was a toy.”  At the same time, there is a sense of plaintiveness here as well…”Why do decent young men and women become bullies?  Why do soldiers dream of being heroes but end up abusing prisoners and shooting civilians?...Because everyone else does…Corruption and brutality is modeled and expected and rewarded.”  That’s only one example of Ms. Penny’s voice and superb dialogue.  She is one of those rare authors whose writing often compels you to read it aloud to others, both because of its excellence and its message. Why do I quote so much of her work?  How could I even begin to express things as perfectly? 
The multi-threaded plot has a complexity that gives real depth to the story.  There were a couple instances where I thought I’d caught an inconsistency or wondered whether something could have been done another way, only to realize one should always trust Ms. Penny as her choices are the exact right ones.  There are unexpected, powerful twists, but never done in a way that seems manipulative.  At times, the protagonist is as surprised as the reader.  There is tension, drama and tremendous suspense. 

Ms. Penny, in an interview for the television series, made reference to..."these books are love letters to where I live, to the village I live in, to the people I live with..."  I don't think she realized how much they would also become love letters to those of us who love her books.
How the Light Gets In” is an excellent story of contrasts and the question of good overcoming evil; of light and darkness.   This may be Ms. Penny’s best book yet, although we’re talking in minute comparisons of excellence from her previous books.  However, this is not where a new reader should start the series.  Although each book could stand on its own, the entire series should really be considered as a whole and begun at the first book. 

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN (Pol Proc-CI Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) - Ex
Penny, Louise - 9th in series
Minotaur Books, 2011