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by Louise Penny
Minotaur, August 2017
400 pages
ISBN: 1250066190

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In Louise Penny's thirteenth installment of the Armand Gamache series, GLASS HOUSES, our hero is once again faced with a murder that leads him into a very dark place, for him personally, for the Sūreté du Quebec, and for the future of Quebec itself. Spoiler alert – this novel takes a very strong stand on illegal drugs and the best way to deal with them.

The novel opens in a courtroom in Montreal in mid-summer. Newly appointed Chief Superintendent Gamache is on the witness stand in a murder case that took place in Three Pines the previous November. The accused confessed to Gamache, who is the first witness in the trial. The prosecutor is hostile to the witness, for no apparent reason.

In alternating chapters the novel moves from the hot August courtroom to the scene of the crime back in November in a nasty snowstorm. That crime begins with a mysterious figure robed in black standing like a statue in the middle of Three Pines' village green for two days, refusing to speak to anyone, including the Chief Superintendent. The figure, we learn, represents an ancient Spanish character called a Cobrador, whose job is to shame unethical acts by simply standing in the offender's presence.

Nothing like a visible conscience to make everyone in Three Pines feel guilty, but when a newcomer to town is found dead in the church basement, the investigation takes an even darker turn. To further complicate the plot, Gamache and chosen members of the Sūreté have been preparing to take down the drug cartel that is supplying both Quebec and the United States through the very porous border with Vermont. The plan has taken a year but is about to go down.

The delightful residents of Three Pines are as quirky as ever and their conversations are one of the great pleasures of reading a Louise Penny novel. Ruth and her duck Rosa surprise us with acts of kindness as well as major clues regarding the murder. Who knew that the church basement was a hiding place for booze during prohibition? Ruth, of course!

The weather figures largely in GLASS HOUSES. Armand shivers in the wet cold snow of November and later, he is dripping with sweat in an non-air-conditioned courtroom in Montreal in the dog days of August. Quebec, and Canada for that matter, is compelled by its weather and no one does weather better than Louise Penny.

GLASS HOUSES was written while Penny's husband Michael was dying of Alzheimer's. He died before the novel was finished and she has revealed that Armand Gamache was modeled on him. Gamache is kind, strong, a great leader yet humble, who has been through terrible things in the previous twelve novels and GLASS HOUSES is no exception. In the final shootout, many of his team and some of the residents of Three Pines are wounded. Peace does return to Three Pines, but Penny ends with a cliffhanger. Let's hope this means she is hard at work on number fourteen.

Louise Penny might just be one of the best writers working in genre fiction now. If you have not read her work, start with STILL LIFE, her first. You will not regret it. You will be compelled to read the next twelve, including GLASS HOUSES, and you will be waiting for number fourteen.

§ Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, August 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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