What could make a bookaholic happier than to run across an author you’ve never read, be so enchanted from page one that you can't put it down, and then discover that there’s a fat little backlist! It’s like finding out a coffee shop is opening in your neighborhood, or scratching off the lucky numbers on a lotto card.
"Louise Penny has created a cast of characters to warmly enfold in your arms and imaginations."
That’s what happened when I picked up A TRICK OF THE LIGHT by Louise Penny. As a longtime fan of series mysteries and crime thrillers, it is my habit to reach first for an old faithful author, comforted in the knowledge that I’m in for a weekend curled up with old friends in familiar settings. But every once in a while, I feel adventurous and step outside my safety net of the known. And boy, am I glad I did.
A TRICK OF THE LIGHT takes place in a village so small and hidden away just outside Montreal that it doesn’t appear on any maps. Its inhabitants are an eclectic bilingual group of friends whose vocations are as varied as their ages and personalities. The hero of the tale is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, an urbane Montreal detective who is a connoisseur of the arts, fine dining and good whiskey, and impeccable manners, who also is blessed with the gift of brilliant observation. The man could easily rival Sherlock Holmes. Ever present at his side is his gloomy assistant who dwells in the land of the glass-half-empty pessimists.
For some reason, the pastoral little village of Three Pines is a magnet for mysterious deaths, thereby bringing the Chief Inspector to town often enough to have befriended its more interesting denizens. In A TRICK OF THE LIGHT, artist Clara Morrow, who has lived in the shadow of her more famous artist husband Peter, has been honored by the Muse d’Art Contemporain in Montreal with a solo exhibit. Every art dealer, critic and potential collector of importance have been invited back to Three Pines for a private reception at Clara and Peter’s home. Clara’s husband and their friend, Olivier, taking an evening stroll through the garden, literally stumble over the body of a flashily dressed woman hidden in the shrubbery. No one recognizes her nor remembers seeing her at the exhibition or the reception, yet here she is, spoiling an otherwise perfect day, strangled among the peonies.
When Gamache discovers the identity of the stranger to be Lilliyan Dyson, a former, not-so-chummy acquaintance of Clara’s from school days, suspicion turns in her direction. Further, several attendees of the reception are found to have a connection to her, primarily unpleasant. The plot thickens, and Gamache begins to look at nearly everyone as potential suspects.
If this starts to sound like just any old cozy, complete with red herrings and suspiciously raised eyebrows and pointy fingers among friends, you would be partially correct. But it’s so much more. Louise Penny has created a cast of characters to warmly enfold in your arms and imaginations. Her writing so enchanted me that I immediately ordered up a backlist Kindle edition of THE BRUTAL TELLING just to better acquaint myself with my newfound friends. The complexity of the relationships between the characters is as compelling as any novel with or without a mystery thrown in. Her knowledge of the art world, both of its techniques and the temperament of its inhabitants, enriches the mysteries with the same deft color and liveliness of other masters of the craft.
How Penny escaped my haunting of book lists for new authors is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is because she is better known in Canada, having received several prestigious writing awards, yet seems to have escaped American critics. Or maybe I got so lazy in my reading habits that I just plain missed her. But she’s at the top of my to-be-read list now!
Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 8, 2011