Friends and readers know that I’m a big Louise Penny fan! Her chief inspector Gamache series features great, well-drawn characters who grow and change over time; intricate but not convoluted plots; and tons of suspense. In fact, it’s a toss-up whether I would have picked her most recent novel, How the Light Gets In, or William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace for the Best Novel Edgar. (Krueger won.)
Now Penny’s new one, The Long Way Home, is out. (Plug here for my local independent bookstore: Schuler Books in Okemos had the hardback at 50% off cover price on the day of release. I assume for hardcore fans like me who got in the car and drove over there yesterday because I had to have it.) The question in my mind: how can she follow the blow-it-all-out awesomeness of the previous book? She had me up all night reading, and while I don’t want to spoil it for any who have not read it yet, the climax where one major character ACTUALLY SHOT ANOTHER MAJOR CHARACTER IN THE BACK was going to be hard to top.
Her smart next step: Don’t try to top it. Where How the Light Gets In felt like a thriller, The Long Way Home is more of a classic mystery. Now retired in his beloved Three Pines, Gamache has settled into peaceful domesticity with his adored and adoring wife, his daughter happily married, friends all around him. Then one of his friends – the famous artist Carol Morrow – confides that she is worried. Her husband Peter, also an artist, and she separated over a year ago, but made a pact that they would reunite on the anniversary of their separation. They had not spoken or seen each other in the interim, but she was sure he would return that day. Gamache enlists Jean-Guy Beauvoir to solve the puzzle: where is Peter Morrow?
The story unfolds in a leisurely manner, as with the help of wife and former librarian Reine-Marie, retired psychologist and bookstore owner Myrna Landers, Gamache, Jean-Guy and Carol collaborate to retrace Peter’s steps the last year. The writing is rich and lovely, the pace is assured, but hidden below the surface is a darker story that is only revealed to the reader in retrospect. In fact, about 3/4 of the way in, I wondered how Penny was going to manage an effective ending. Either we’d find Peter alive and well or we wouldn’t… hmmm.
Presto change-o. Let us just say that people are not always what they seem, that the good and bad are not so clear-cut, and that somebody ends up with a knife to the throat – and more – in the final chapters. And most satisfyingly, we learn that in his year apart, Peter Morrow had grown past his bitter jealousy of his wife’s genius into a bigger person, with a deeper and more adventurous talent. Penny thereby proving, once again, that where there’s life, there’s hope.