How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
(Minotaur Books / Macmillian Audio, 2013)
Format: Audio CDs via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Ralph Cosham)
From Goodreads: "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?"
Ah, sweet wonderful Inspector Gamache and the haven on fictional earth that is Three Pines! How I do love it! And I missed it, which is bonkers, but Penny's last Gamache book didn't take him to Three Pines, and, sure, the place can't support all that many murderers, but I was still eager for Penny to take him back there. And as Gamache is such a broken and fragile creature (you'd never know it; he is a pillar, but those of us who love him can see the cracks) when this book opens, it's crucial to his very soul that he is nestled in the town's bosom ASAP. Even if he's there because of yet another murder.
Obviously, these characters very much get under my skin and take on a life of their own, as does the town. I've read plenty of small-town series in my day, but rarely have I been able to mentally navigate them as thoroughly as I can Three Pines. Sit me on the bench in front of the pond - if Ruth and her duck will make room for me - and I can point you to the B&B or Myrna's bookstore (Ruth, it's not a library!), and tell you the story of why there are three pines in Three Pines. And then we'll go to the bistro for lunch, and not leave for hours.
Penny creates it all with such a tender sensibility, and she does the same with Gamache and the troubling world of the Sûreté du Québec - and wow. Because there are some long, long narrative threads happening within Homicide, and my mind spins when I imagine Penny laying them out so many books and murders ago. She always keeps the overall arcs moving in relentless and compelling ways, but I was blown away by this one. I can only hope she keeps spinning out more.
And it's a pleasure to have Ralph Cosham talking me through those threads, over the course of 12 CDs. He continues to inhabit the story deeply; I think his heart broke as he narrated in the same places my heart broke. I loved his pacing, his intonations, his overall investment in the work as he read it. This is truly a magical author-narrator pairing, long may it continue!