Kirkus Reviews says of Louise Penny’s thirteenth mystery, Glass Houses, starring Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache mystery that “the tension has never been greater…. A meticulously built mystery that follows a careful ascent toward a breaking point that will leave you breathless. It’s Three Pines as you have never seen it before.” Louise Penny’s fans will not be surprised at that declaration or the praise. For those who have not read Penny before, such praise may entice a new reader to become immersed in the current and previous mysteries.
Maureen Corrigan, whose reviews on NPR are always scintillating, tells listeners that Glass Houses “along with many of the other Gamache books is so compelling that, for the space of reading it, you may well feel that much of what’s going on in the world outside is ‘just noise.’”
Glass Houses begins in Three Pines, the idyllic village where Armand Gamache lives with his wife Reine-Marie. Other members of Three Pines figure in the stories, and they are present in this one: Myrna, Ruth with her duck Rosa, Clara, Olivier, and Gabri. Of course, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Gamache’s daughter Anna are also present, especially since Jean-Guy is Gamache’s second in command. Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste is also back.
In Glass Houses, readers quickly learn about an ancient Spanish custom of shaming someone who owes a debt. In the modern world, the Cobrador del Frac, debt collector, dresses in top hat and tails. He is paid to follow the debtor, thus shaming him or her into paying the debt. In the 1300s, the Cobrador del Frac dressed much like the grim reaper. The debt that the Cobrador del Frac sought to be paid was about judgment and collecting on debt of conscience rather than a monetary debt. The Cobrador del Frac becomes part of mythology.
But what does an ancient Spanish custom have to do with modern-day Three Pines, Quebec, Canada? Gamache determines that the Cobrador del Frac has come to shame someone in Three Pines, but whom? Is it a long-time resident or is it one of the visitors to the village: Matheo Bissonnette, Lea Roux, Katie Evans, Patrick Evans? Newcomers to the village include Jacqueline who works for Sarah in the bakery and Anton Lebrun who is the new chef at the Three Pines Bistro. Is the Cobrador del Frac there for one of them?
The Cobrador del Frac appears on Halloween when villagers and visitors are dressed up for Halloween. However, unlike the others dressed for Halloween, the Cobrador del Frac remains in costume and stands, mute, on the village green, causing consternation among the residents and visitors alike. However, as Gamache tells everyone, he cannot arrest a hooded figure for standing on the green.
Glass Houses begins with the trial in a hot summer of Quebec, and the courtroom is sweltering because the air conditioning is broken. That sweltering heat adds to the difficulty of the trial. Crown Prosecutor Zalmanowitz and Armand Gamache, head of the Sûreté du Québec quickly show readers the two are at odds with one another, despite being on the same team. That is, they both want to solve the murder, send the murderer to prison, and return Three Pines to safety.
Readers soon learn a larger plan is afoot, however. Gamache and Beauvoir along with Lacoste and Toussaint are working on a long-term sting operation to put drug cartels in Canada out of business, or at least do serious damage to their enterprises. Gamache’s plan is daring and means that the drug lords must assume the Surete du Quebec is incompetent since the drugs slip through Canada and into the US without hindrance.
The plot in Glass Houses is complex and Penny keeps readers holding their breath until all is revealed at the end. Perhaps more than any of the other Gamache novels, Glass Houses stands alone and does not require knowledge of Three Pines and the villagers, though they certainly play a part.
The Cobrador del Frac, debt collector, frightens the villagers. Then Reine-Marie Gamache discovers a body in the church basement. Oddly, the body is wearing the Cobrador del Frac costume. What does that mean? Will this trial be the end of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Crown Prosecutor Zalmanowitz? Gamache has only recently cleaned out the Surete of corrupt officers. Is he now going to join them as someone corrupting justice? Will his plan to take down the drug cartels work? Even if the plan does work, will Gamache be censored and possibly lose his job over his method of attack?
Penny brings in thoughtful questions about conscience and justice. Is Gamache right to allow huge shipments of drugs to flow into the US with part of the drugs staying in Canada, thus endangering many lives in both countries? Using “burn the ships” as his mantra, Gamache risks a great deal in order to ensure success. One must be willing to burn the ships and cut off all sources of retreat in order to win the war on drugs. Gamache refers to what Ghandi deemed “the court of conscience, a court that supersedes all others.”
That court of conscience plays into the notion of using the Cobrador del Frac to shame someone without a conscience into admitting guilt. Glass Houses is a complex novel, sure to keep readers up reading late at night in order to discover who murders Katie Evans and why along with whether Gamache’s plan to kill the drug trade works as well as how these two are connected.
Read more about Louse Penny and her works at her site: http://www.louisepenny.com/.
Watch an interview with Louise Penny: https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/louise-penny-on-her-new-inspector-gamache-novel-glass-houses/