Friday, September 09, 2011

A trick of the light

A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny, was a wonderful discovery for me, and the perfect first read for me of RIP VI. It's a detective novel with lots of traditional elements: a sleepy village, eccentric characters, a troubled police inspector (well, they're all troubled, aren't they? — and this one may be less tortured than many). It's not exactly a locked room, but the list of possible suspects is limited to a fairly small group. And there's a big reveal at the end, on a stormy night.

The story: A body's found in Clara's garden, the morning after the big party celebrating Clara's art show. That's pretty much it, but you don't need anything more.

Clara's an artist, so it's natural that she should be surrounded by other artists. And critics and art dealers and a poet. It makes for some wonderful digressions on the nature of art, how much of it inspiration versus hard work, the subjectivity of its value.

One clue leads to an AA meeting, and the cast is then filled out with alcoholics. That leads to some interesting discussions about finding your happy place, whether it's possible for a person to change, and when are people really themselves. And forgiveness, and doing things for the right reasons.

While most of the story takes place in the fictional village of Three Pines (it almost makes me want to take a drive through the Eastern Townships to pinpoint it), Chief Inspector Gamache does have to come into the big city, Montréal (avec un accent), to take care of some business. I do get a kick out of encountering familiar stomping grounds in fiction. (I figure I live about halfway between the Inspector's place edging Outremont and the victim's apartment in the Plateau.)

The thing about this book: it made me feel very smart. Not in a look-at-me-I'm-reading-War-and-Peace kind of way. And not in a I-figured-out-whodunnit-by-page-23 way either. (I've always been really crap at figuring out whodunnit.) But in the way I recognized clues, the way my mind wandered down certain paths. The thing is: I know I was led down these paths, in the way clues and characters were smoothly, elegantly revealed.

The reader may guess, but the reader won't figure it out, as some vital information is withheld. But this does not detract from the pleasure of reading this novel.

I don't have many benchmarks when it comes to mysteries. This book feels a little like Agatha Christie, but not so dated. It doesn't have the verbal flair of Fred Vargas — the conversations and observations here are just as philosophical, but toned down, more natural — but then it doesn't get carried away either with the unbelievable, sensationalistic, or just plain weird plot stuff that Vargas gets away with. It is exactly what it sets out to be, and that's more than can be said for some other mystery books (for example, Erasing Memory, by Scott Thornley, which I read earlier this summer) that veer off into thriller territory or gawd knows what.

A Trick of the Light proved to be very comfortable and very comforting.

Agent Lacoste was exhausted. She wished she could take her bowl of café au lait and a croissant, and curl up on the large sofa by the fireplace. And read one of the well-worn paperbacks from Myrna's shop. An old Maigret. Read and nap. Read and nap. In front of the fireplace. While the outside world and worries receded into the mist.

A Trick of the Light is Penny's seventh book in a series of mystery novels featuring Chief Inspector Gamache. Let me assure you that it stands perfectly well on its own, but it does refer to previous cases and it's evident the characters are evolving. I'll be looking up her previous books. If A Trick of the Light is any indication, they're the perfect thing to have on hand for a rainy day.


Kailana said...

I have always been rather curious about Louise Penny, but I still haven't managed to read anything by her...

DesLily said...

it sounds like a really good good! I am like you when it comes to actually figuring it out way ahead of time lol...

Carl V. said...

I added the first book to my Books to Buy list earlier in this challenge and this review just makes me want to try her work even more. "Comfortable and comforting" sounds like a wonderful thing to me.

Great review, glad you enjoyed it.

Amy said...

Oh, I love Louise Penny. I haven't read this one yet but I've got it reserved at the library. The rest of her books are wonderful, but especially the two that precede this one: The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead. They're sort of sequels within the series and they're beautifully written and haunting.

Isabella said...

Thanks, everyone, for dropping by. I'm still thinking about aspects of this book and I recommend it. Louise Penny was a wonderful and unexpected discovery. I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of her books.