Customer Reviews: A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Clara Morrow, at age 50, is far beyond the age when most artists are discovered. Yet, on the evening this novel opens, she is about to enter the prestigious Musée d'Art Contemporain in Montreal for a gala solo show of her work. Clara's nerves nearly get the best of her, but she gets through the experience and is soon able to return to her idyllic Eastern Townships home of Three Pines for a celebratory party with her Three Pines friends, and artists, gallery owners and artists' agents from Montreal.

In the "friends" category are Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec Sureté and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Gamache and Beavoir have become acquainted with Three Pines and its quirky residents during their investigations of several prior murders. (Penny amusingly acknowledges the incongruity of Three Pines being simultaneously a place of art, friendship and warm hospitality, and a locale with a frighteningly high murder rate, by having bookseller Myrna describe Three Pines as "a shelter[, t]hough, clearly, not a no-kill shelter.")

The celebratory mood of Clara's Three Pines party doesn't last. Early the next morning, it is brought to an abrupt end by the discovery of the murdered corpse of a woman in Clara's garden. The woman is identified as Lillian Dyson, Clara's childhood friend who cruelly betrayed her while they were in art college. Clara claims she hadn't seen or heard from Lillian in over 20 years.

Looking at means and opportunity leaves Gamache and Beauvoir with a wide field of suspects. They must focus on motive, which reveals a huge gap between the type of person Lillian is widely reported to have been 20 years earlier and how she is seen contemporarily by her new circle of acquaintance. Gamache asks, over and over: "can people change?"

The search for Lillian's true identity is the key to the mystery, because only through understanding her nature can the investigators learn how she inspired murderous hatred and in whom. In the course of the investigation, Gamache and Beauvoir also confront the horrors they still live with as survivors of a deadly attack on their team the year before. The experience has affected Gamache profoundly, but it has not shaken his fundamental belief in people. By contrast, Beauvoir thinks: "The Chief believed if you sift through evil, at the very bottom you'll find good. He believed that evil has its limits. Beauvoir didn't. He believed that if you sift through good, you'll find evil. Without borders, without brakes, without limit." Though Beauvoir's name can be translated, literally, to mean "beautiful view," his actual view of people has become increasingly dark and embittered.

Clara's new-found success and Lillian's murder also bring to a boil the problems of envy and lack of understanding that have plagued her marriage for several years. In fact, envy is one of the deadly sins that is a persistent theme in this book, as greed was a theme in Penny's prior book, A Brutal Telling. This is what Penny does best. Her mysteries are not about forensics, timetables, alibis or violent action. They are about the human heart and spirit; about envy, resentment and fear eating away at people, threatening friendships, marriages, partnerships and even lives. But they are also about love, forgiveness and redemption offering hope for change and a forging of new, stronger bonds.

In A Trick of the Light, we see Louise Penny at the height of her powers. She is a master of characterization; a genius at creating a world that we enter into and fully live in, and want to return to. This is the finest book I've read this year and I have no doubt it will deservedly win many awards. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this story about art, artists, love, hate, addiction, redemption and, yes, murder, readers will visit the beautiful and perhaps magical village of Three Pines, Quebec,a place that isn't on any maps and "...could only be found if you were lost." The plot is intricate and follows all the rules of mystery writing, with red herrings and false denouments, and would make a satisfactory read without any gourmet touches.

Yet, as always, Penny gives us characters that are so real and nuanced that, frankly, you want to go and, if not live with them, at least spend a few weeks of quality time. Calling them "real," is perhaps a disservice, because the central characters, especially Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Sûreté du Québec, are in many ways the people we wish we could be. They are wise and kind and generous and damaged and flawed and trying their very best. They love and are loved, and have good friends with whom they share wine and simple meals (food is taken very seriously in these books!). The mental landscape of the characters is revealed through writing of such elegant and resonant clarity that the advancement of the story becomes synonymous with the development of a deep personal relationship with the characters. This story revolves around the first solo art show of 50-year-old but 'newly discovered' portrait artist and Twin Pines resident Clara Morrow, at the prestigious Musée d'Art Contemporain in Montreal. In the book, Clara's portraits are described by those who view them: at first, they see unremarkable-looking individuals that, upon closer consideration, are found to have depths of emotion and beauty of spirit that affect the viewer strongly, often with great joy. Many of the books I've read are peopled with "unremarkable individuals" and the things that happen to them and those books are often diverting and entertaining and even moving. However, what Clara has done in her paintings, Penny does with her words -- this book is truly a masterpiece.

With a series that started seven books ago in which the first book was brilliant, how could one expect an author to provide an even better book each time out of the gate? Yet that is what Louise Penny has done. I simply cannot fathom the possibility that someone might read this book and not immediately wish to read the previous six, and so I would encourage you to just start at the beginning with "Still Life."
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VINE VOICEon August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
COZY, noun. a mystery novel that
-is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else
-has a sleuth who is A) a well-loved amateur B) bright and well-educated/well-read and C) a woman
-offers police who rarely take the amateur sleuth seriously
-contains very little physical violence
-includes virtually no sex
-provides a solution arising from a chance remark or random observation which the sleuth links to the particulars of the case

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books set the standard for the genre.

As an adjective, cozy describes a small space that is warm, comfortable, and safe. As a noun, it identifies a genre of mystery-writing that is rarely taken very seriously.

In this, our new millennium, however, the cozy is getting a make-over. The worst problem the genre faces is best illustrated by the popular "Murder She Wrote" TV series, where it seemed that not only Cabot Cove, but the entire state of Maine, would have to be depopulated so that Jessica Fletcher might trump the cops and solve yet another case. Even a willing suspension of disbelief balks when 39 is the body count rather than those titular steps.

Making the detective a professional is the only logical solution, and in the last 20 years any number of writes have embraced it. Embrace they might, but most of them then stub their narrative toes on the well-loved element. To fashion an amiable detective, writers tend to fall back on various forms of the verb "to bumble." (And, even more needless to say, this makes most of those detectives men, since no one finds a bumbling professional woman remotely lovable.)

Louise Penny's brilliance lies in her subversion of nearly all of these elements. But none of her creations -- the idyllic village, the charming villagers, the exquisite food, the one-offs at a resort or in Quebec City -- can hold a candle to her detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

"Oh," you say. "Another quirky male detective. How very expected."

But no. Armand Gamache doesn't need a collection of incunabulae or a forest of orchids; he's a vic of neither OCD or the OTB; his coat is just a coat and his alcohol consumption is unremarkable. But in himself, he is entirely remarkable, for Armand Gamache is a good man who studies how to live a good life. No, no, there are no long disquisitions on ethics or religion, but there is on nearly every page the struggle of a thoughtful man to make a choice informed by what is right. Yes, there's humor and friendship and wonderful art and food, but there's also this amazing moral presence in Penny's books.

In a world where "best practice" has become the popular synonym for virtue, this is massively refreshing. Gamache doesn't quote Aristotle's Ethics; he lives them. To his decisions he brings intellectual virtue and moral virtue with a view to accomplishing something useful. Moving into my seventh decade as an avid mystery reader, I can think of no one like him. The closest comparisons would be Peter Wimsey (pace the pre-print books) and Guido Brunetti, but both of those good men reach their decisions with much less pain and personal loss than does Gamache.

As Socrates says to the guys: "it is no easy thing to be good."

(Wow, could he nail it or what?)

So, if you are looking for a new series to treasure, introduce yourself to Louise Penny and Chief Inspector Gamache.
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VINE VOICEon September 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm prepared for the "unhelpful" votes.

Because as much as I like Louise Penny, I wish I liked her more. There's no question that she's a superb writer, with a keen understanding of the human heart and mind; her dialogue is, for the most part, very good; and her ability to create distinct, idiosyncratic characters is unmatched. But for me, the mechanics of a mystery are paramount, and in "A Trick of the Light," I feel that Penny falls short. Simply put, she jumps through some mighty big hoops to ensure that all of her suspects remain -- or return -- to the cosy town of Three Pines after the murder takes place. Characters hang out for no good (or believable) reason (even those who can't stand one another) or make the drive to and from Montreal arbitrarily. They even assemble, most improbably, at a climactic dinner party so that Penny's detective can actually announce, more or less, "The killer is in this very room." As psychologically astute as Penny can be, the nuts and bolts of plot seem to elude her.

One of the problems, I think, is the very narrow focus Penny has created for herself. Yes, the denizens of Three Pines are a colorful bunch, but ensuring that each of her mysteries (but one) somehow takes place there, creates logistical problems that strain credulity. Even Miss Marple traveled beyond the boundaries of St. Mary Mead. I think Penny would get more bang from her buck if the supporting characters surrounding Inspector Gamache changed with each book. This worked for Conan Doyle, Christie, James, Rendell -- the list is endless. I'd hate to see happen to Penny what happened to Martha Grimes, whose Richard Jury series became repetitive and precious precisely, I think, because her story telling was held hostage by characters who wore out their welcome. To me the most successful element of "A Trick of the Light" is Penny's continued exploration of post-traumatic stress, as experienced by her police officers. This is ultimately far more involving than the marital woes of her middle-aged artists or the strained comic relief provided by Ruth, Myrna, Olivier and Gabri. "Numb nuts" is a punch line we only need to hear once, not numerous times.

So let the "unhelpful" votes commence. I will continue to read Penny for her literate prose and astute observances of human nature; but I'll do so in the hope that her plotting gets tighter and less convoluted.
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on August 30, 2011
Every year, I read Louise Penny's books thinking she can't continue to get better. Every year, she proves me wrong. A Trick of the Light, the latest Armand Gamache novel, takes readers into the dichotomy of the soul, the dark and light, the good and evil sides. It's another masterpiece.

It's finally time for Clara Morrow's solo art show in Montreal. The art community has gathered, and Clara's friends from Three Pines are also there, for the event Clara has dreamed about for years, and now dreads. Behind frosted glass doors, she can envision every dream, and every nightmare that portends her future. It's not Peter, her husband, but her friends who whisper in her ear, offering her reassurances. She can live through the event. And, she survives, to be swept home to Three Pines, to a celebration with prominent members of the art world, and then the next morning's tragedy.

When a body is found in Clara's garden the morning after the party, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec brings his investigative team to the village. He and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir joke that they need to move the entire department to Three Pines, and Gamache's daughter calls murder a cottage industry in the village, but Gamache understands the depth of feeling that brings someone to murder. Once again, someone has brought fear and hatred to the peaceful village that appears to be a little bit of paradise. One of Gamache's favorite quotes, repeated in the book defines it perfectly. "There is strong shadow where there is much light."

No one can identify the dead woman, a woman whose red shoes, and position under Clara's bushes remind Peter and Gabri of the Wicked Witch of the West. The revelation that she's Lillian Dyson, a childhood friend of Clara's whose criticism of her early artwork caused the final destruction to their friendship, made the old quote relevant. Lillian Dyson destroyed many careers with her reviews, before disappearing. Few in the art world would disagree that "The witch was dead." But, who feared and hated her enough to kill her? And, why was the body in Clara Morrow's garden in a village that wasn't on a map?

No one entwines the past and present as skillfully as Louise Penny, past events that continue to resonate years later. There are consequences to evil comments, to fear, to hatred. And, Penny links so many comments and actions in this book. A Trick of the Light may be the story of a murder, but it's so much more. Penny's previous books have led to this one. How many years has Peter been jealous of Clara's gift? Beauvoir has known Gamache's daughter, Annie, for years, but the previous year's police tragedy changed that relationship. No one, not Gamache or Beauvoir, Olivier, Peter, nor Clara, can forget the past. But, what about forgiveness?

What other author gives us characters to love, and a place to return? Armand Gamache, still with those kinds eyes, despite the tragedy of the last year. Jean Guy Beauvoir, admiring his mentor, but struggling with the last year's events. Clara Morrow, who, along with Oliver Brulé, really only wanted to belong somewhere. Peter Morrow, who has been petty and jealous for so many years, but has also been loved by Clara. And, then there's Ruth Zardo, whose poetry is so essential to the spirit of every book in this series, while her rude behavior adds humor. Ruth, whose small acts of compassion tie books and people together, while her longing for a duck offers hope. Isn't that what Three Pines and its people represent to all of us? A place of hope, a place you can only find when you're lost because no map will get you there.

Penny delves deep into the world of art, and the world of Alcoholics Anonymous, to explain pain and fear. At the same time, A Trick of the Light, presents a world of contrasts. Both worlds offer the opportunity for hope and change, for light, in contrast to living in shadow and fear. Life is a world that continues to offer surprises. Gamache finds a world where no one is what they appear to be. What is a trick of the light, and what is reality? Leave it to Louise Penny to continue to ask important questions. How can anyone question the importance of the mystery genre when Penny asks, what is truth and what is A Trick of the Light?
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VINE VOICEon August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In "A Trick of the Light," Louise Penny creates an artful mix of murder mystery and literary novel, contrasting human conflicts and differences, on the order of an artist who paints using strong contrasts between dark and light.

Following the "vernissage" (preview) of her one woman show at Montreal's Musee d'Art Contemporian, Clara Morrow awaits the printed reviews. On this clear morning, sitting in her garden, Clara anticipates her husband who will soon arrive with an armload of local papers as well as the New York Times. Clara, the artist, has achieved a degree of fame; but will the critics be kind? As her husband Peter approaches, he sees, poking out from behind one of the flower beds, something that has been hidden from Clara's view: a dead body lying in the grass.

The dead body in Clara's garden overshadows everything she has worked toward for thirty years. It also kicks off an investigation by Chief Inspector Gamache who interviews an interesting cast of characters from the art world as well as residents of Three Pines, the small, secluded town where Clara lives. But these characters are so well developed, they seem more like people you might have met, with the possible exception of the poet Ruth Zardo, a caricature of a colorful old woman, with her sardonic remarks and witty humor.

Contrasts encompass a wide spectrum: between art which is subjective, and murder, which isn't; between Clara's quiet (subtle) and rebellious (subversive) nature; between the victim's former destructive personality (subversive) and her new, nice (subtle) self; between good and evil and the different views of the world taken by Chief Inspector Gamache and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir.

"The Chief believed if you sift through evil, at the very bottom you'll find good. He believed that evil has its limits. Beauvoir didn't. He believed that if you sift through good, you'll find evil." (53)

For those of us previously unfamiliar with Inspector Gamache mysteries, there is plenty of backstory to bring us up to date.

Set in the art world, this novel encompasses a "Van Gogh's Ear" of observation about artists, people who support them and people who feed off of them.

The only area that remained gray was the identity of the killer, which I didn't figure out ahead of time. Revealed in the next-to-last chapter, it made perfect sense, the mark of a really good murder mystery.
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on September 1, 2011
I have over 800 books in my Kindle archive. I have far fewer on my actual Kindle - but I have every one of Mrs. Penny's novels there and I am about to reread the series. What a privilege and joy to read these books.

Louise Penny writes character-driven novels that happen to be mysteries/police procedurals. This, the 7th in her Three Pines series, can take its place with pride amongst its siblings. The murder, the bistro, Clara's art, Gamache, the FOOD, the examination of envy, cruelty, redemption and the contrast between dark and light: all serve to create a fully imagined world that keeps you entangled when you should be cooking dinner and doing chores. But then...isn't that the great hope when you open a new book? That escape, meaningful connections and, perhaps, personal growth will come through your interaction with the words and characters. A Trick of the Light provided these for me. And, for me personally, the simple, elegant, spare last paragraph of the book was not only hugely moving, but a tour de force in coming full circle from the beginning.

P.S. Clara, you go girl!

2nd P.S. You'll have to find out about Rosa on your own.
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VINE VOICEon August 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I could not put this book down.

It's about time to declare Louise Penny my favorite author. She writes mysteries for grownups. I care deeply about her characters and their relationships. Furthermore, she breaks new ground with every new book in the series. These characters are affected, often scarred, by what happens to them, and they carry those issues into the next book for further development. Just like real people. Some mystery series feature horrific crimes that are forgotten by the next installment. In the Inspector Gamache series, events have consequences that may take several books to resolve. For that reason, it's probably best to start at the beginning and work your way through. You could certainly read this book on its own and enjoy it, but you would miss out on knowing how the characters got to this point.

One of the most compelling relationships in Twin Pines is the marriage of Clara and Peter - two middle-aged artists with very different styles and a certain degree of professional rivalry. The murder takes place in their garden during a party celebrating Clara's show. The victim is a person from Clara's past. Because of the timing of the murder, there are many suspects, outsiders as well as village residents.

Jean Guy Beauvoir, Chief Inspector Gamache's second in command, is also featured prominently in this book. He was wounded physically and emotionally by the events that took place in Bury Your Dead, the last book. His marriage has fallen apart. He has admitted to himself that his true love is another married woman but is afraid to act on his feelings. To do so would also affect his relationship with Gamache, his boss, and that relationship is also in turmoil.

There is no shortage of suspects in this book. We get intriguing glimpses into the worlds of art and Alcoholics Anonymous, which sometimes intersect. I have to admit that for me the revelation of the murderer was kind of secondary. It made sense but wasn't hugely satisfying. Many of the characters' lives are in pretty much of a shambles at the end, and they are making tentative efforts to pick up the pieces. I really didn't want it to end. It's hard to wait to see what will happen next with these people.

Louise Penny's writing is simply brilliant. She writes dialogue like people speak, often in fragments rather than complete sentences. It makes me want to read it aloud. Her narration is simple and direct, short sentences, incredibly easy to read and incredibly difficult to stop reading. When I read Inspector Gamache, I feel physically drawn into the story which is an experience I seldom have and not consistently with any other writer's work. At the risk of sounding hokey, it's like being under a spell. I find strong images from earlier books floating into my mind at odd times, as though they really happened. She is that good at capturing a moment. I can still remember being drawn to the cover of Still Life, the first Inspector Gamache book, and subsequently being drawn into the world of Three Pines.

I want to say something like "This series just keeps getting better" or "This is the best Gamache book yet" but the fact is they are all so great and I do not want to pick a favorite. I just want to keep visiting Three Pines and get to know the characters better and better.
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on October 18, 2011
I am happy when I see a chronological list of titles in a series. And I think it is a good thing to start at the beginning. Here are the Gamache novels in order of publication: 1)STILL LIFE 2)A FATAL GRACE
(3)THE CRUELEST MONTH 4)A RULE AGAINST MURDER 5)THE BRUTAL TELLING 6)BURY YOUR DEAD and (7)A TRICK OF THE LIGHT. A Louise Penny story narrated by Ralph Cosham is a perfect way to spend a week. Never rush a good thing. To me, a Louise Penny book is a gift welcomed every year as summer turns to fall.

It is early summer in the village of Three Pines as the story begins. And, at last Clara Morrow is the center of attention, having been celebrated at a solo showing of her art. In the following passage, Penny presents Clara and her Village:

"This was the village that had lived beneath the covers when Clara was a child, that was built behind the thin wooden door to her bedroom, where outside her parents argued. Her brothers ignored her. The phone rang, but not for her. Where eyes slid over and past her and through her to someone else, someone prettier, more interesting. Where people butted in as though she was invisible and interrupted her as though she hadn't just spoken. But when as a child she'd closed her eyes and pulled the sheets over her head, Clara saw the pretty little village in the valley, with the forests and flowers and kindly people, where bumbling was a virtue. As far back as she could remember, Clara wanted only one thing. Even more than she'd wanted the solo show. It wasn't riches. It wasn't power. It wasn't even love. Clara Morrow wanted to belong. And, now, at almost fifty, she did." {Chapter 3}.

Clara's world and her village are shattered, however, when the body of a childhood friend, Lillian Dyson, is found in Clara's garden. And, another friend, Armand Gamache, Quebec's Chief Inspector of the Homicide Divison, is called in to uncover the secrets of the Village of Three Pines "Where murder seems to be a cottage industry." {Chapter 3}.

We witness Penny's compassion and insight, but also her humor. Here, for example, she speaks of the maps found in the victim's car: "One was for all of Quebec. Not very helpful unless you were planning an invasion and just needed to know roughly were Montreal and Quebec City were." {Chapter 5}.

Penny's power lies into her look into the human souls of the victim's parents, Peter Morrow and Jean-Guy Bouvier. Scenes you will not soon forget.

Speaking of looking, Penny's use of eyes stands out. Three examples follow:

1)Armand Gamache: "The agent looked into Gamache's deep brown eyes and realized they were ulike any he'd seen . . . . The Chief Inspector's gaze was intelligent, thoughtful, searching. But where others were cynical and censorious at their center, (his) eyes were something else, they were kind." {Chapter 5}.

2)Ruth Zardo as the Virgin Mary: "(There was) "a vague suggestion in those weary eyes, not even seen really, a promise, a rumor in the distance. . . . A single white dot in her eyes . . . . The moment despair became hope." {Chapter 2}.

3)Finally, in the last passage of the book, again Ruth: "She was staring into the distance. And in her weary eyes, there was a tiny dot, a glint, a gleam."
{Chapter 30}.

Note: Because I listened, I am certain there are errors. I apologize for them. Thank you.
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I recently chose Canadian author Louise Penny's new book, "The Beautiful Mystery", as a Vine choice. I'd never read her books - never even heard of her! - but was blown away by "Beautiful". The writing was superb and, as the seventh or so in the Armand Gamache series, she was able to introduce her characters to a new reader without seeming to bore readers of her previous books. I decided to read her backlist and I started with "A Trick of the Light", the book published before "Beautiful".

"A Trick of the Light" is set in Montreal where Armand Gamache is the head of homicide department of the Surete service. He and his aide, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, had recently been involved in a shoot-out in a Montreal warehouse where four fellow officers were murdered. The two - Gamache and Beauvoir - are finding their tenuous way back to police work after having been seriously injured. They find themselves investigating a murder-in-a-garden in the small village of Three Pines. Both the victim and the large cast of suspects/potential victims are involved in the art world of Montreal. Clara Morrow, an artist in her 50's, has gained success in a one-woman show in Montreal and the "after-party" at her Three Pines home has ended in the murder of a woman with a murky personal past. Gamache and Beauvoir use their wits and gentle questioning to find the killer.

The best part of the book is Penny's nuanced use of relationships in her story. Almost everyone in the rather large cast of characters has a past or current relationship with everyone else. Since secrets are exposed in the three or so days from murder to denouement, the reader has the chance to "know" a lot of characters. They're all interesting and the end of the book, while not coming as a great surprise, is reached in a very stylish manner by Louise Penny. I'm going back to read even more Louise Penny. Watch this space for future reviews!
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