Summary and book reviews of How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In

A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, #9

by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2013, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2014, 416 pages

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Book Summary

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life in Three Pines, finding long buried secrets--and facing a few of his own ghosts.

Winner of the BookBrowse 2013 Best Fiction Book Award

"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen

Christmas is approaching, and in Québec it's a time of dazzling snowfalls, bright lights, and gatherings with friends in front of blazing hearths. But shadows are falling on the usually festive season for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department, his old friend and lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir hasn't spoken to him in months, and hostile forces are lining up against him. When Gamache receives a message from Myrna Landers that a longtime friend has failed to arrive for Christmas in the village of Three Pines, he welcomes the chance to get away from the city. Mystified by Myrna's reluctance to reveal her friend's name, Gamache soon discovers the missing woman was once one of the most famous people not just in North America, but in the world, and now goes unrecognized by virtually everyone except the mad, brilliant poet Ruth Zardo.

As events come to a head, Gamache is drawn ever deeper into the world of Three Pines. Increasingly, he is not only investigating the disappearance of Myrna's friend but also seeking a safe place for himself and his still-loyal colleagues. Is there peace to be found even in Three Pines, and at what cost to Gamache and the people he holds dear?

ONE

Audrey Villeneuve knew what she imagined could not possibly be happening. She was a grown woman and could tell the difference between real and imagined. But each morning as she drove through the Ville-Marie Tunnel from her home in east-end Montréal to her office, she could see it. Hear it. Feel it happening.

The first sign would be a blast of red as drivers hit their brakes. The truck ahead would veer, skidding, slamming sideways. An unholy shriek would bounce off the hard walls and race toward her, all-consuming. Horns, alarms, brakes, people screaming.

And then Audrey would see huge blocks of concrete peeling from the ceiling, dragging with them a tangle of metal veins and sinews. The tunnel spilling its guts. That held the structure up. That held the city of Montréal up.

Until today.

And then, and then … the oval of daylight, the end of the tunnel, would close. Like an eye.

And then, darkness.

And the long, long wait. To be crushed.

Every morning and each evening, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Reading Group Discussion Questions for How the Lights Gets In by Louise Penny

  1. Louise Penny has said that Three Pines isn't just the setting for How the Light Gets In; it is a main character and plays a pivotal role. How do you view that character and that role?
  2. The title is taken from a verse in Leonard Cohen's "Anthem":
    Ring the bells that still can ring,
    Forget your perfect offering,
    There's a crack in everything.
    That's how the light gets in.
    What meaning do these lyrics have in the story - and perhaps in your own experience?
  3. We meet Constance Ouellet only briefly, at the start of this novel, yet by the end we understand a great deal about her life. What do you make of that life? How about Audrey Villeneuve's?
  4. How ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2013

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I usually gauge my reading in days. For Penny's How the Light Gets In it was hours! The characters and plot of this story are as intricate, mesmerizing and complex as ever; Penny, once again, transports us to where we all want to live - Three Pines - for another visit (and compelling mystery to solve) with our "family" (Kathleen D).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1072 words).

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Penny writes with grace and intelligence about complex people struggling with complex emotions. But her great gift is her uncanny ability to describe what might seem indescribable – the play of light, the sound of celestial music, a quiet sense of peace.

The Washington Post

Gorgeous writing…fresh and fully realized.

People

Penny proves again that she is one of our finest writers.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Once again, Penny impressively balances personal courage and faith with heartbreaking choices and monstrous evil.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Penny, elevating herself to the pantheon that houses P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters, demonstrates an exquisite touch with characterization, plotting and artistic sensitivity.

Booklist

Starred Review. Like P. D. James, Penny shows how the tight structure of the classical mystery story can accommodate a wealth of deeply felt emotions and interpersonal drama…Top of the genre.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Penny's mysteries are really character studies. There is police procedure being followed, but the forensics take second place to Gamache's absolutely fascinating probe into the characters of every single person involved inthe investigation: the police, the witnesses, and especially the suspects.

Reader Reviews

Carolyn G. (Catskill, NY)

Do yourself a favor and read this book!
Louise Penny's latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery, set in Quebec and alternating between the the urban and countryside settings so well known to her faithful readers, is a triumph of suspense and decades long secrets. I loved how all of ...   Read More

Pam S. (Wellesley, MA)

Surprising how interesting a little Quebec village can be!
Although this is the eighth in the author's series of mysteries set in rural Quebec and featuring Montreal homicide detective Armande Gamache, it was the first of the series that I have read. The story was interesting, fast-paced and complicated in ...   Read More

Jennifer B. (Oviedo, FL)

How the Light Gets In
Mystery stories should be enthralling. This book does that and even surpasses previous Armand Gamache books. The suspenceful turns captured my attention. Louise Penny's graceful use of language reminds me of O. Henry in style. I look forward to each ...   Read More

Lois P. (Logan, UT)

Expectations Exceeded
I'd like to join Louise Penny's many fans in a standing ovation! What a wonderful Three Pines mystery--compelling, complex and beautifully written. I didn't want to leave the company of Inspector Gamache and his friends. Lovers of interesting, ...   Read More

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Make Room for Ducklings?

In her review of How The Light Gets In for The Washington Post, Maureen Corrigan writes: "Penny's voice — occasionally amused, yet curiously formal — is what makes the world of her novels plausible. I can think of few other writers who could sidestep cuteness in a scene that features an elderly female poet and her pet duck."

Here is a scene from the novel that features that poet, Ruth, and her pet duck, Rosa:

[Ruth] lifted Rosa from her lap, feeling it warm where the duck had been. She carefully placed Rosa on Jean-Guy's lap.
He seemed not to notice, but after a few moments he brought his hand up and stroked Rosa. Softly, softly.
"I could wring her neck, you know," he said.
"I know," said Ruth. "Please don't."
She ...

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