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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

Glass Houses by Louise Penny: a review

Glass Houses #13 Gamache by Louise Penny

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Award: Agatha Award and other nominations

Published 2017, 391 pages


In this installment of the Inspector Gamache series, set in Canada, there is the expected complex multi-thread plot lines: a murdered woman, Gamache enmeshed in one of his intense plots to break the drug cartels (instead of rooting out police corruption like the last couple books), and a trial where Gamache is the primary witness for the Crown.

"Corruption starts small, often justifiable. A white lie. A minor law violated for the greater good. And then the corruption, like a virus, spreads."

This murder happens in the village of Three Pines when a vacationing woman is murdered in their small chapel's basement and is found by Gamache's wife, Reine Marie. There are clues and suspects galore, but as Gamache and his team work through the clues and the people involved, the focus narrows to just a few likely suspects.

Penny does such an amazing job of researching the motivation offered behind each murder in her stories. The murder happens in "normal" ways, but, the reason is always centered around some interesting locale or industry, etc. It's about artists, or set in a monastery, in Quebec City and we get the history of the area, or an old "end of the world" weapon is discovered, etc. In this book Penny introduces the cobrador, an ancient Spanish tradition of a visual conscience - a silent person dressed all in black to represent the evil deed the accused has committed. A cobrador shows up in Three Pines and makes the whole village uneasy. Who is it there for? Again, a real thing, beautifully researched and tied into the murder of the woman.

"A lie was a light. One that grew into a floodlight, that eventually illuminated the person among them with the biggest secret. The most to hide."

The second thread is the trial and even though it's happening after the murder, it winds through all the chapters as Gamache testifies to what he did during the investigation and why. It is an unusual technique for Penny, and an interesting way to move the two main plot lines forward. The trial alludes to a big secret that Gamache and the prosecutor are protecting. That secret gradually is revealed.

"We've lost," he repeated, his voice even. Calm. Certain. "The war on drugs was lost a long time ago. That was bad enough, but what's happened is the knock-on effect. If drugs are out of control, it isn't long before we lose our grip on all crime. We aren't there yet. But we will be."

And that's the third thread through the story - the secretive way he and a few top inspectors plan to take down the drug cartels doing so much damage to their country. The specifics of the plan are dribbled out through the story and it doesn't really come together until the last pages. As is the normal pattern in Penny's plots.

The chapters, and sometimes even within one chapter, do skip around in time a bit, but it's always very clear where in the timeline you're being led.


My thoughts are: I freakin' loved this story for some reason. I loved the idea and representation of the cobrador, the conscience. I loved the trial and how it again shows Gamache as cool under fire. I loved the very complex plan he came up with and all the secrecy and risks he and his team assumed, just to try to the right thing. I absolutely adored Penny's writing style. The lovable, but definitely quirky inhabitants of Three Pines are all present and accounted for, but play minor roles in this story.

I read a few of these out of order before I realized the depth of the series so at the end of last year I went back to #1 and am reading them in order. You certainly can read them out of order, each story stands alone as a strong mystery. However, the real value and pleasure of these stories is best enjoyed when read in order so you get the full immersion into every character.

This is a long review - but, it is a great book. And I'm trying to convince you to start the series!

Top photo via unsplash; bottom photo black eyed susans by Terrie Purkey

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