Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Louise Penny is something of a modern Agatha Christie, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache her Montreal-based Poirot. In the seventh book of the series, titled A Trick of the Light, we follow Gamache as he heads out to a tiny village in Quebec to investigate the murder of a reviled art critic. Minds from all over the art world are gathered there, guaranteeing only one thing: nothing is as it seems.
Table of contents
Louise Penny Delves into the Art World
We are taught to be honest and reliable since early childhood, and yet despite this, the unerasable human trait of deceit still finds its way to the sunlight, in some people more than others. Thriving on obfuscation, make-belief, and hidden meanings, the art world often tends to house those for whom deceit is second-nature. Fortunately for us, it’s one Chief Inspector Gamache must penetrate in A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny.
The seventh book in A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series doesn’t, in any way, require you to have read the previous chapters. Each and every novel presents a self-contained case, although, if you’re a fan of murder mysteries in general, I would recommend you check out the previous novel, and perhaps the ones before it as well.
The story begins by introducing us to Lillian Dyson, a famous and somewhat reviled art critic whose words have made and broken countless careers over the years. In short, she wasn’t lacking for enemies, a fact which makes things quite difficult when her body is discovered among the flowers of Clara Marrow’s garden in Three Pines.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of homicide at the Sûreté du Quebec, is called in to investigate this peculiar case. Upon his arrival, he is greeted to a veritable cornucopia or artists, having seemingly decided to all gather in this tiny village to inconvenience him and his investigation. With a murder lurking among them, Gamache and his team have their work cut out for them.
Though they apply the tried-and-true methods from the start, the context of the case forces them to think outside the box. The people they are dealing with all have something to hide, and it seems as if none of them are prone to saying what they truly think. Even the evidence they uncover can scarcely be trusted, and for the first time in his career, Armand Gamache fears the truth might elude him forever.
Cutthroat Artistic Canadians in A Trick of the Light
As was the case with Agatha Christie‘s Hercule Poirot series, the main charm of A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series is seeing our beloved protagonist ply his trade in different environments, under varying circumstances, and among different types of people. So far, Louise Penny has, to my mind, managed to keep things fresh and interesting, extending her streak to this novel as well.
Despite taking us back to the same village of Three Pines time and time again, Penny always finds a way to breathe some new life into it, and I would say this is one of her more successful attempts at doing so. The art world certainly lends itself to plenty of depictions, and most importantly, it makes for an exciting setting to conduct a manhunt in.
Naturally, the author takes her time in establishing the setting and its atmosphere, settling us in the cozy village, now a reflection of the innumerable shades and colours paintings carry with them. Thankfully, Louise Penny is quite a skilled storyteller and knows approximately just how long of a descriptive paragraph her readers can handle.
It goes without saying that the cast of characters, or should I say suspects, is a pivotal element which turns A Trick of the Light from a regular whodunit into a fascinating examination of some rather unique minds, all sharing a common love for bewilderment. Each of them is expertly-crafted and fleshed out quite a bit more than you’d expect, especially the minor characters.
While I wouldn’t outright say that they’re all realistic and would fit into our reality with zero issues, what I can say with certainty is that they’re all perfect fits for the world they inhabit, for the story in which they play a part. From attractive to repulsive and intelligent to drooling, they cover a wide spectrum of personalities, and at the end of the day, the majority of them make compelling suspects for the case at hand.
The Psychology of Abyss Gazers
If there’s one thing Louise Penny has been consistently praised for throughout her novels, it’s her firm grasp on human psychology, and her willingness to thoroughly study human beings of various mental compositions. Naturally, it is a work of fiction and so are her characters, but it doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from them.
Naturally, Chief Inspector Gamache takes the centre stage as the man whose head we get to peer into most often, witnessing his personal struggle against his demons, potentially everlasting. More often than not, his personal outlook on the world is coloured by a shade of pessimism, but it’s toned in a believable fashion, especially considering the nature of his career.
As a matter of fact, many of the characters whose thoughts we see in great detail tend to pull towards the abyss in general sense. For instance, Lieutenant Beauvoir, Gamache’s sidekick, seems to be unable to escape the conclusion that every living thing, regardless of how beautiful and pure, has a true darkness inside of it.
Over the course of the investigation, Gamache unravels the inner worlds of his suspects as he finds more and more clues which help him shatter the many illusions surrounding him. In those moments, we also get to examine the more frail and helpless aspects of the human psyche, and perhaps I’m way off base here, but it feels to me like Louise Penny has some personal experience in regards to that.
Ultimately, the author’s choice to focus on psychology only elevates the mystery to a higher level, and rather than being just another chase for clues, A Trick of the Light feels like a meaningful search for a horrible truth we’re meant to pry out at all costs. It makes the ending considerably more impactful, when you can understand the villain’s motivations, and perhaps even pity them.
|368||Minotaur Books||July 3 2012||978-1250007346|
The Final Verdict
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny is a magnificent seventh entry in A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, taking place in a rather memorable depiction of the art world and its denizens, combining murder mystery and psychology in seamless and exciting fashion. I would venture to say that so far, it’s perhaps the best chapter in the series yet.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous Inspector Gamache books, or are in search of a tightly-written and cozy murder mystery relating to the art of painting, then you’ll definitely love all this novel has to offer.
Louise Penny is a Canadian author who has taken to writing mystery novels where the events unfold in the province of Quebec, following the inspector Armand Gamache. Some of her better-known novels include Still Life which earned her the 2005 New Blood Dagger Award, A Fatal Grace which was the winner of the 2007 Agatha Award, as well as six additional Agatha Christie awards to this day.