A Quick Tip by MaineColonial
Clara Morrow, at age 50, is far beyond the age when most artists are discovered. Yet, on the evening this novel opens, she is about to enter the prestigious Musée d'Art Contemporain in Montreal for a gala solo show of her work. Clara's nerves nearly get the best of her, but she gets through the experience and is soon able to return to her idyllic Eastern Townships home of Three Pines for a celebratory party with her Three Pines friends, and artists, gallery owners and artists' agents from Montreal.
In the "friends" category are Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec Sureté and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Gamache and Beavoir have become acquainted with Three Pines and its quirky residents during their investigations of several prior murders. (Penny amusingly acknowledges the incongruity of Three Pines being simultaneously a place of art, friendship and warm hospitality, and a locale with a frighteningly high murder rate, by having bookseller Myrna describe Three Pines as "a shelter[, t]hough, clearly, not a no-kill shelter.")
The celebratory mood of Clara's Three Pines party doesn't last. Early the next morning, it is brought to an abrupt end by the discovery of the murdered corpse of a woman in Clara's garden. The woman is identified as Lillian Dyson, Clara's childhood friend who cruelly betrayed her while they were in art college. Clara claims she hadn't seen or heard from Lillian in over 20 years.
Looking at means and opportunity leaves Gamache and Beauvoir with a wide field of suspects. They must focus on motive, which reveals a huge gap between the type of person Lillian is widely reported to have been 20 years earlier and how she is seen contemporarily by her new circle of acquaintance. Gamache asks, over and over: "can people change?"
The search for Lillian's true identity is the key to the mystery, because only through understanding her nature can the investigators learn how she inspired murderous hatred and in whom. In the course of the investigation, Gamache and Beauvoir also confront the horrors they still live with as survivors of a deadly attack on their team the year before. The experience has affected Gamache profoundly, but it has not shaken his fundamental belief in people. By contrast, Beauvoir thinks: "The Chief believed if you sift through evil, at the very bottom you'll find good. He believed that evil has its limits. Beauvoir didn't. He believed that if you sift through good, you'll find evil. Without borders, without brakes, without limit." Though Beauvoir's name can be translated, literally, to mean "beautiful view," his actual view of people has become increasingly dark and embittered.
Clara's new-found success and Lillian's murder also bring to a boil the problems of envy and lack of understanding that have plagued her marriage for several years. In fact, envy is one of the deadly sins that is a persistent theme in this book, as greed was a theme in Penny's prior book, A Brutal Telling. This is what Penny does best. Her mysteries are not about forensics, timetables, alibis or violent action. They are about the human heart and spirit; about envy, resentment and fear eating away at people, threatening friendships, marriages, partnerships and even lives. But they are also about love, forgiveness and redemption offering hope for change and a forging of new, stronger bonds.
In A Trick of the Light, we see Louise Penny at the height of her powers. She is a master of characterization; a genius at creating a world that we enter into and fully live in, and want to return to. This is the finest book I've read this year and I have no doubt it will deservedly win many awards. Highly recommended.