There is, at least for me, somewhat of a struggle on deciding how to review a book deep into a series. Glass Houses is Louise Penny’s thirteenth Inspector Gamache book, and as she publishes a new one each year the sixteenth in the series will publish in September. There is so much backstory that feeds each new novel that I can’t rightly tell you to read this one if you haven’t read its predecessors, but I can emphatically tell you that if you like murder mysteries (and sometimes other kinds of mysteries) that ruminate on the human spirit than these books are for you and go pick up Still Life at your earliest convenience.
As for Glass Houses, Penny picks up a few months after the events of A Great Reckoning with Gamache now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec. The book flips back and forward in time between events in November in Three Pines and a murder trial in July. Penny continues on of my favorite components of her writing – we are treated to a glimpse into some perhaps little-known history (this time the cobrador del frac), but this time she embellishes it and creates a fictional backstory. When a cobrador comes to Three Pines it unsettles the small community and eventually a body is found. The finding itself, the location, the who, and the how, all lead Isabelle Lacoste and her team to dig a little deeper into a murder in Chief Superintendent Gamache’s town.
Penny tries on new structural elements in her writing with each book, and this time the jumping back and forth between fixed points in the timeline in order to create suspense left me feeling flat. We don’t know who died for nearly a third of the book, and we don’t know who is on trial until nearly the end. We also don’t know until the very final chapters who the larger big bad is, lurking in the background. Because, this book is also about uncovering and taking down the largest drug trafficker in Quebec who happens to be using Three Pines as one of his depots. Gamache and his Superintendents (including Beauvoir as his second in command) are playing an all out war – they have burned their ships and have one chance to succeed, but it may very well cost them their jobs, and possibly their lives.
Even though the mechanical components of the work didn’t suit me, and kept the pacing uneven I still enjoyed this book and was pulled into the story. I care very much about the inhabitants of Three Pines and the members of the Sûreté and Penny delivers on that front. I’m rounding this 3.5 book up to 4 stars.