Tag Archives: Inspector Armand Gamache

Glass Houses and Readalikes for Louise Penny

cover image of Glass Houses audiobookGlass Houses by Louise Penny is #13 in the Armand Gamache series, and the books have become enormously popular. I’d like to think I was an early adopter, but #1 came out in 2006, and I can’t say for sure I’ve been pushing these books for 11 years!

If you haven’t heard of Louise Penny, you must not avoid anything that even remotely resembles crime fiction. She was even on CBS Morning America last month:

https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/louise-penny-on-her-new-inspector-gamache-novel-glass-houses/

Glass Houses might be a hard one to jump into the series with, because the series is so far along, but I think the book succeeds both as a stand-alone title and in moving the characters forward in the series. The author does very well bringing in enough backstory for new readers (or to remind regular readers of the series) to grasp the personalities and motivations of the main characters and the essential peacefulness of the village of Three Pines, which manages to remain undisturbed despite the disturbing number of violent murders that happen there!

In an interview recorded with the audiobooks’ new narrator, Robert Bathurst, at the end of Glass Houses, Louise Penny says her books aren’t crime fiction. With the main character the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, the police department for the whole of the province, and with a murder mystery at the center of just about every book, it seems like plain old genre prejudice to claim the books aren’t “crime fiction”.  But they definitely do fall at the literary end of the crime fiction spectrum, with themes for each book and thematic explorations of ethics and morality running throughout the series.

With characters who grow and change over the course of the series; the author’s fondness for word play and her often poetic language; and the rigorous intellectual, philosophical, moral, and cultured scaffolding every story is mounted on, these books will probably not appeal to readers looking for a straightforward murder mystery.

I’ve tried before on this blog to come up with a list of authors to try if you like Louise Penny, and I still think Jane Langton’s Homer and Mary Kelly mysteries are the closest match for style. But here is a list of other books that might hit the spot while fans of Louise Penny-style literary crime fiction (Shhh, don’t tell the author I said crime fiction!) wait for next year’s Armand Gamache book.

(I’ve listened to all of the Armand Gamache books on audio, as I do most of my crime fiction, so all of the books on this list are also recommended as audiobooks.)

Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next series
Less serious and with fantasy elements, the word play and humor of these books might appeal to readers who find the banter of the residents of Three Pines one of the best parts of this series.

Jane Langton
Homer and Mary Kelly series
The author imbues her mysteries with history and culture with deftness and humor. The marriage of Homer and Mary Kelly is reminiscent of the Armand and Rene Marie Gamache partnership.

G.M. Malliet
Max Tudor series
Classic village mysteries with a handsome, unmarried vicar in the lead role, these stories have the wit and ironic self-regard seen in the lighter books in the Armand Gamache series.

Inger Ash Wolfe
Hazel Micallef series
Darker in tone than even the darkest of the Armand Gamache books, the Hazel Micallef books may appeal to readers looking for literary crime fiction with realistic characters set in Canada.

 

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How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of How the Light Gets InHow the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.

Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.

These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.

Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.

This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.

So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.

If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.

How the Light Gets In
Penny, Louise
Cosham, Ralph
Blackstone Audio
August 2013
9781427233011
$39.99 US
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

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Malady in a Monastery: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (Audio)

Cover image of The Beautiful Mystery audio editionSet in a monastery deep in a forest in northernmost Quebec in mid-September when the leaves are already turning, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (narrated by the talented Ralph Cosham) is a great audiobook to listen to as nights are getting longer and winter looms. In this eighth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, there’s no visit to the village of Three Pines, where readers of the first seven novels may have imagined spending quiet nights in the local B&B (quiet, except for when there has been a murder in or around the village), but meeting the monks of the fictional Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups monastery and catching up with the continuing story of the fallout for the chief inspector and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, from traumatic events of the previous year (see Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light) more than made up for not hearing about my favorite Three Pines characters – Clara, Peter, Gabri, Olivier, Myrna, and Ruth.

“Some malady is coming upon us. / We wait. We wait.” These lines from T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral keeps entering the mind of Armand Gamache, the usually mild-mannered head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, during the time he spends at the remote St. Gilbertine monastery. No outsiders have ever before been allowed entrance; in fact, no outsiders – including the Pope – had known the monastery even existed until a few years ago. Chief Inspector Gamache appreciates the beauty of poetry and of the Gregorian chant that the monks have suddenly become famous for, but he’s no pushover when it comes to investigating murder. In this case, that murderer is clearly one of the twenty-three cloistered monks remaining in the building with the thick stone walls, behind the door that is always kept locked, but that isn’t the most dangerous thing lying in wait for Armand Gamache and his more philistine, but beloved, friend and lieutenant Jean Guy.

Listen to an excerpt from The Beautiful Mystery as narrated by Ralph Cosham here. If you like audiobooks at all, I guarantee you’ll like the audio editions of Louise Penny’s books, but you should start with Still Life, the first one. (Still Life is also a good one to read in the fall, if I remember correctly.) The only quibbles I had with The Beautiful Mystery narration is the way the author distinctly pronounced the “o” in the word “Catholic” (“Cath-oh-lic”) which sounded odd to me, and that he forgot to use the French pronunciation of the name “David.” Otherwise, the audiobook narration was as heavenly and mesmerizing as the Gregorian chant that was sung to near perfection by the monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups.

The Beautiful Mystery (Unabridged)
Penny, Louise
Macmillan Audio
August 28, 2012
978-1-4272-2609-9
13.5 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Beautiful Mystery on CD from Macmillan Audio through Audiobook Jukebox.

Other opinions of The Beautiful Mystery audiobook (all raves):
AudioFile
Bookin’ with “Bingo”
Thoughts in Progress

You may also be interested in my review of The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, here.

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