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.
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.