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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, 2011, * * * * *

This is the 7th novel in the Armande Gamache mystery series. In this book, Clara Morrow, now aged 50, is far beyond the age when most artists are discovered.  Yet, on the evening that the novel opens, she is about to enter the prestigious Musee d'Art Contemporain on Montreal for a gala solo show of her work.  Art experts and critics from the local scene and from as far away as New York, Paris and London are at the vernissage and Clara's party afterwards at her home in Three Pines, the lovely village near Montreal that is so small it does not appear on any map. However, the celebratory mood of the Three Pines party does not last,  as early the next morning there is a discovery of a murdered woman's body Clara's garden. Three Pines may seem like a picture perfect postcard-of-a-place but it is a microcosm for the world outside.  Usually evil arrives in town by traveling the road from the outside, but not always. The body is identified as Lillian Dyson, Clara's childhood friend who cruelly betrayed her while they were in art college. Clara claims that she has not seen or heard from her in over 20 years and there is a wide field of suspects.  In addition, Clara's new-found success and Lillian's murder bring to a boil the problems of envy and lack of understanding that have plagued her marriage with Peter for several years.  Louise Penny's 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, partnership and other lives.  They are also about love, forgiveness, and redemption offering hope for change and a forging new stronger bonds.  Ms. Penny is a master of characterization; a genius at creating a world that we enter into and fully live in, and want to return to.   A Trick of the Light  exposes the soul-destroying anger, disappointments and rancor that can eat a person up from within and specifically examines the mind-set of alcoholics, who are capable of doing extensive damage before they are ready to admit that they need help. As a murder mystery, there is little suspense and most readers will not be shocked when Gamache unmasks the culprit. Penny is a stand-out for her eloquent use of language, analysis of people's psychological foibles, and her beautiful and sometimes humorous description of life in a place so tiny that everyone is intimately acquainted with everyone else. Penny also explores what makes art memorable and what it is like to struggle creatively.  A Trick of the Light is both fascinating and, at times, poetic. 

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