Tag Archives: Louise Penny

Three new books by old friends

The only thing more exciting than the discovery of a new author you love is the upcoming publication of new books by authors you already adore.  Some fall into the “pre-order this in hardback” category (Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Ian Rankin, Sue Grafton, and more).

yBittersweet for me was reading Sue Grafton’s Y is for Yesterday, because Grafton has announced that she’ll be retiring upon publication of the Z book (Z is for Zero).  After 35 years and 25 Kinsey Millhone books, she’s ready to be done.  I’ve read every Kinsey book starting with A is for Alibiso slipping between the covers with her new one brought the same pleasures – familiar characters, a little spicy language and potential romance, and a  solid mystery to be solved by the PI with (now) plenty of experience.   The question – who’s blackmailing the ex-con scion of a wealthy family with a sex tape that shows him and several other teens raping a teenage girl?  Fritz McCabe is just out of jail, having done his time for killing one of his classmates, and his parents put Kinsey on the case.  As usual, the story is much more convoluted than it originally appears, and when it all unravels, the ending is a surprise, but not surprising.  Because time passes much more slowly in Kinsey’s world of Santa Teresa, California, the year is 1989.  No internet, no Google, no cell phones – but plenty of shoe leather and face-to-face interviews.  Classic.

glass housesA more thrilling read is Louise Penny’s new Chief Superintendent Gamache novel, Glass Houses.  I came to Penny midseries, but went back to begin Superintendant at the start, with Still Life.  I found it to be full of charm, heartwarming and clever, an original voice.  That has continued through the series.  With Glass Houses, as usual, Armand Gamache has a small band of ultra-loyalists to work with, including his now son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir and newly minted Inspector Isabelle Lacoste, the colorful denizens of the small village of Three Pines, and the trust of those at the highest level of the Canadian government.  There are two questions to be addressed in the book:  why is a costumed figure haunting the Three Pines village green?  And will Gamache be successful in bringing down a drug cartel that is gathering so much power, he expects it will take over the country if it is not stopped?  It is no surprise to faithful readers to learn that the answer to both questions are resolved successfully, but not without great personal cost.  As Penny has ratcheted up the stakes with each Gamache book, it has occurred to me that there can surely only be so many times that the bad guys underestimate our protagonist.  Gamache is always playing the long game against difficult odds.  That, and Penny’s willingness to harm and even kill main characters we have come to know and love, adds a nail-biting quality to the already considerable tension.

late showThird up is Michael Connelly’s The Late Show.  Unlike Grafton and Penny, Connelly is not delivering another book in an already loved series (Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller), but taking a flyer with a new lead character, LAPD detective Renee Ballard.  Brave man to take on a female protagonist, and he does an good job portraying the challenges and the characteristics of this young female.  Connelly’s given her the quirk of homelessness – she surfs and spends many nights with her dog in a tent on the beach – which I found unnecessary.  (I imagine he’ll dispense with this or use it as a pivotal plot point in a future book.)  Ballard’s working mostly on her own on the night shift (nicknamed “the late show”) as punishment for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.  Still, she’s does her best for the many victim she meets, and works hard to shine while doing so.  It’s tough, because she’s supposed to hand off the cases she catches to the detectives who work days.  Kind of like a doctor who always does the intake, and never gets to cure anybody.  Still, she’s determined to get to the bottom of the ruthless beating of a transgender prostitute – a victim type that is often marginalized by the police – and also to figure out what really happened in a nightclub shooting.  Needless to say, she does, and it’s a pretty wild ride.  My take – definitely a hit and a series I will be sure to read.   

Louise Penny keeps the pages turning

beastCanadian mystery novelist Louise Penny pens the Inspector Gamache series, featuring the smart and deeply introspective Armand Gamache, his family, colleagues, and friends in the quirky village of Three Pines.  The eleventh in the series, The Nature of the Beast, gives readers a break from the intense pressure of recent books – wherein intrigue, danger, and despair prevail – to focus on a knotty puzzle of a plot that is rooted in history.

Here’s the set-up:  Nine-year-old Laurent Lepage is a boy of great imagination and dramatic flair.  As a result, when he discovers a gigantic monster of a weapon hidden in the woods near Three Pines and rushes into the local coffee shop with the news, the only person who believes his story is the one who is hiding it.  Within a day, Laurent is dead, the victim of a tragic bicycle accident.

Or is it an accident?  Of course not.  And with Armand Gamache and his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir on the scene, the unfortunate murderer is not likely to get away with it.  At the same time, local couple Antoinette and Brian Fitzpatrick, are putting on a newly discovered play – a touching and powerful play, authored by a notorious serial killer.  That these two plot threads come together in an unexpected way is only to be expected.

Also to be expected:  that amorality and depravity will lie at the heart of the mystery, and that characters  – even those we know very well – will reveal depths not previously apparent.   As Gamache, Beauvoir, and former colleague Isabelle Lacoste tease apart the threads that connect the present to the past and reveal the sinister plot, Penny keeps the reader turning the pages until the last question is answered.

Or are they?  Penny is a master of leaving a few threads dangling – I hope with an eye to bringing these characters back in future books!  And while many are likely to be hoping for the return of the evil John Fleming (currently imprisoned but clearly plotting to gain his freedom), I am very interested in the CSIS “librarians.”  Mild-mannered and bookish, Mary Fraser and Sean Delorme are much more than they appear at first meeting.

The Nature of the Beast is a solid entry into Penny’s series, and well worth reading.  Compared to other books in the series, it lacks the intensely personal elements seen in (for example) the Edgar nominated How the Light Gets In (a nail-biter) or The Long Way Home (reviewed here).

The New Inspector Gamache is here!

long way homeFriends 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.

OMG, seriously

I am shocked, shocked, to find that it has been 10 weeks since my last blog post.  I knew it was a long time, but seriously?  Real life took precedence over literary life.

red sparrowSo let’s do a quickie catch-up.  Previously on Literary Lunchbox, I was in the midst of my reviews for the Edgar Best Novel nominees.  Not surprisingly, the Mystery Writers of America did not wait for my reviews to bestow their awards.   Nope.  Jason Matthews won Best First Novel for his amazing book, Red Sparrow.  My pick was Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterson.  Red Sparrow was #2.   In retrospect, I think MWA got it right.

ordinary-grace-200William Kent Krueger took home the Edgar for Best Novel for his luminous novel, Ordinary Grace.  When I left off reviewing, Krueger was #1 of the four I had reviewed.  I can’t give myself full marks for calling it in advance, though, because unreviewed was Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In as well as Lori Roy’s  Until She Comes Home.

untilLori Roy is a very special author.  Her prose is beautiful, her stories engaging, characters are well-developed and fully human, and her books defy categorization.   Until She Comes Home is a mystery, and much more.  Still, I believe I would have ranked it below Ordinary Grace because Krueger did a wonderful job of luring me in, engaging me emotionally throughout.  With Home, I was always a bit of an observer.

lightBut I think there is a very real danger I might have put Louise Penny‘s How the Light Gets In at the top of the Lit Lunchbox ranking.  The book features the always-compelling Inspector Gamache, and life is very bleak, with his department disbanded and his beloved Jean-Guy Beauvoir addicted to pain pills and filled with hatred for his former mentor.   An investigation in Three Pines while hostile forces gather against Gamache and threaten the country leads to the inspector’s eventual, but shocking, triumph.  Yes, I have to admit – it’s probably 50/50 whether I would have called it for Ordinary Grace or for How the Light Gets In.

So let us draw a curtain across this confusion.  All six nominees for the Best Novel Edgar are well worth reading, in my opinion.  So go for it.  Similarly, there’s a lot to like about all the Best First Novel nominees… the only one I would have reservations about is The Resurrectionist.  (So read that last.)



Recently read: quick reviews

Still have a couple of books to review and rank for the Best Novel category of the MWA Edgar awards, but I had to take a few minutes to give a shout out for several books I recently read!

deadFirst, Harry Dolan’s hit another home run with his latest David Loogan book, The Last Dead Girl. The previous two are Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men.   I gave big thumbs up to both – you can read the review for BTH here and VBM here.  It’s a prequel of sorts, set in 1998, back when Loogan was still known by his birth name, David Malone, and was working as a home inspector.   A chance encounter with law student Jana Fletcher  leads him into a head-over-heels love affair that ends with her bloody murder, and his stubborn quest to uncover the truth about this crime leads to the realization that she was much more than she appeared to be.  Dolan moves the plot along through several points of view, including the protagonist in first person, Jana’s, and the mysterious K.   Many gasps of surprise later, the plot resolution’s complete.

hollowAlso read was the second novel in Ransom Riggs’ YA series that started with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Hollow City.  In this outing, Jacob Portman and his unusual friends are under siege, heading through time and magic to London, where they hope to return the stalwart Miss Peregrine back into human form.  (Big shock when she does change back!)  It’s clever and well-plotted, and the integration of the found photos that makes the series so visually compelling was as fascinating as ever. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll love it.  If you don’t, you find it tiresome and go read something else.

Two oldies but goodies:

brutalSuspense is high in Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling.  Published in 2009, it was one I discovered at my library – how did I miss it?  Fans of Chief Inspector Gamache will love it, as one of Three Pines’ most beloved characters is accused of murder.   Having read Penny’s more recent books, I was still very surprised at the ending.

witnessAlso fun was Nora Roberts’ 2012 novel, The Witness.  Not generally a giant Roberts fan, I read this one because my husband recommended it.  He bought it on the Kindle after getting a free sample, and suggested it to me by saying “It’s kind of a women’s suspense book but it has a really good main character.”  And so it does.   A super-smart 16 year old college student witnesses a hit by a Russian mobster and goes on the run.  Fast forward 13 years, she’s still in hiding.  How she opens up to a small town lawman and together they outwit the bad guys, winning her freedom, is a page turner.