The End of the Arnot Case

Author: Louise Penny

We’ve been in the teeth of the beast so long, we almost expected it to last forever. The Arnot case has been a haunting force since book one, the powerful leadership of the Sûreté, all the way to the top, steadily gaining ground on Gamache, getting ready to jettison him for daring to report and stop their crimes. This is it then, the book that ties it all together, hurls us into the final confrontation, and answers all the questions. It almost feels like a finale, except we know (thanks Google) that the series continues, robust and, I suppose, focused solely on the various murders/shenanigans that crop up in Three Pines and the aftershocks of this tightly wound explosion of a book.

We’re nearing Christmas, in the car following a fretful woman under decrepit tunnels and bridges, anxiety and decision warring with the holiday mood of hope. It will be toward the end of the book before we find out where this lone figure fits into the puzzle, but she sets the mood for the rest of How the Light Gets In: crime, desperation, and a short burst of final decisions and daring actions.

Beauvoir and Francoeur continue in cahoots, Annie lost but not forgotten, Gamache grieving but not quite willing to let go. His tracking of Beauvoir continues, and Francoeur uses this development to best advantage. Meanwhile, all of Gamache’s people are steadily being sent to other departments, only Lactose remaining in a sea of new, openly insubordinate faces. The push is hardly subtle this time, the message clear. It’s time for Armand to resign and choose the gentleman’s way out. Otherwise, the next steps might be worse. But is this all fallout from that long-ago Arnot case? Or is the man still in power, still working behind the scenes? It seems that Armand did not cut out all the rot, but what remains is truly shocking and more than  what Penny’s steadily ominous foreshadowing has hinted.

Meanwhile, Three Pines is still steadily increasing its murder count. The sleepy little village, which no one can find on a map despite the oodles of violent murders, is about to get another tragedy. One of Myrna’s old clients turned friends has come to visit, and she has a secret. The problem: she disappears just before she tells it, and Myrna somehow knows that her friend is in trouble. Indeed, it’s too late for Gamache to help the woman, found murdered in her home (which this time isn’t in Three Pines), but his sense of loyalty compels him to find out what happened to Constance Ouellet, the last of a famous band of quintuples who lived in the lime light and all mysteriously died in the shadows. If this just so happens to give Gamache and his last remaining friends a good excuse to be off the grid in Three Pines, all the better.

This is one of the best books in the series, although it does not even remotely stand alone. New readers need to exit the stage and go buy Still Life and start from the beginning. By now, the personalities are well established, and we can communicate with these people through a glance. Penny still lavishes her elegant prose and decadently describes all those delightful meals at Oliver and Gabri’s bistro (I can get fat just reading about those), but here the story is all about drawing together the threads of the previous nine books and the personalities and interactions that have been established. Even the Ouellet murder, which is sort of its own thing, has a tie-in by helping Gamache be in the right place and at the right time. It also supports the series’ not so subtle theme: you never really know the full truth about anyone.

The conclusion is a complicated mélange that pulls Arnot in again but ups the anti. Gamache did miss the rot – a lot of it – and he is in a quick war of the wits to determine the next step before his fate is sealed. It’s never been about the glory, or even the survival, for Gamache, but about righting wrongs and removing a cluster of power hungry sell-outs who infest the top and have turned the Sûreté du Quebec into a mob-like institute. The full breadth of the scheme is astounding and Penny works Beauvoir, still with his drug problem and shattered emotions, into the climax in a way that is expected, but satisfying. The Ouellet quintuplets even have their own finale, something Myrna weaves out into a hushed story time as they wait to backup Gamache as their town becomes the sudden focal point of a long overdue showdown.

How The Light Gets In is a breathless read which gains speed and emotional desperation as the story careens into a satisfying and shocking conclusion. We have a somewhat sweet epilogue, the only moment that doesn’t ring true (but is nevertheless the right and only choice.) After the last page flutters closed, How the Light Gets In demands a solemn silence, leaving a void no other book can fill, having wrapped up an epic. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here, and glad that Penny didn’t make this the final book, despite its air of conclusion.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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