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52 Books in 52 Weeks, Week 37: Let the Light In

09/16/2013 09:38 am ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

A disclosure: Back in 2009, when I got my first book deal, Louise Penny was nice enough to sit down with me for two hours over tea and let me ask her anything I wanted to about the book business and what she wished she had known when she had her first book published. While I have not seen her since, I will be ever grateful for her good advice and her generosity with her time.

How the Light Gets In is the 9th book in the "Gamache" series of books: it's detective fiction with two recurring sets of characters, Inspector Gamache, an investigator in the provinces provincial police force, and the residents of Three Pines, a fictional village set in the Eastern Townships (an English enclave about an hour and half outside of Montreal), which is loosely based on the town where Penny has a home.

Book 9 in the series finds Gamache at a cross-roads. He is being railroaded out of his department which is slowly falling prey to the all-pervasive corruption that seems to have infected Montreal (for those of you who don't follow Montreal politics, and hey, I can't blame you, there's an entire commission of inquiry into the graft in the province right now called the Charbonneau Commission.)

To distract himself for his troubles, Gamache takes a call from one of his Three Pines friends: a friend of hers has gone missing and she's worried. It turns out that the friend is the lone surviving Ouellet quintuplet (a series of characters strongly based on the Dionne Quintuplets, and her murder is part of a wider puzzle about those sister's lives, and demise.

All of the usual elements are here for Penny fans: the colorful cast of characters that inhabit Three Pines, Gamache's intelligence and struggle against the deficiencies of his department and the forces working against him, and the fast-paced evolving mystery of just who wants his downfall and why.

It turns out to have been slightly weird timing for me to read this book: Penny's books are a window into the bilingual world I live in in Montreal -- I am English (or Anglophone as we english speakers are referred to here), but I work in both language and have many french colleagues and friends of all sorts of backgrounds and ethnicities. On a day to day basis I could not tell you if I spoke to some individuals in English or French -- we just speak whatever comes to mind and the other understands. But right now, politicians are trying to drive a wedge into the uniqueness of Montreal, and Quebec for that matter, by introducing legislation that would ban the wearing of all religious symbols except for Christian ones. This column is not the place to discuss my deep sadness about this law or the many reasons I think it is an affront to dignity.

Suffice it to say this: Penny's book gets its title from a Leonard Cohen song (which he was generous enough to let her use for free) which contains the following stanza that gives me comfort that all is not lost, that reason will prevail:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

And so, on a less serious note, next week's read is The Racketeer by John Grisham, which is leading the paperback charts.

Happy reading.

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