Book review: ‘A Trick of Light’ by Louise Penny

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Clara Marrow was finally getting recognition for her art. After years of living on the income of her husband Peter’s work, she had an individual show in the leading gallery in Montreal. Her paintings were unusual in that they displayed a much deeper meaning than the portraits themselves. Peter wasn’t sure how he felt about his wife’s acclaim. And there was more, a party at their home in Three Pines later in the evening. Anyone who was anyone in the Quebec art scene would be there.

The success of the party was quickly tempered by the finding of a body in the garden the next morning. Inspector Gamache and his team are once again back in Three Pines, where one wag has said that murder has become a cottage industry. No one seems to know the murdered woman. And she hadn’t been at the party even though her dress would indicate that she had been or intended to be there.

Closer examination doesn’t confirm that she had been at the party, but a purse found under her body does yield a name. As it turned out, many years before, she had been a friend of Clara’s; the friendship had ended when she had savaged Clara’s work in a review. At one time or another, her caustic criticism had upset most of those who were at the party. Her most notable: “He’s natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function.”

When everyone is a suspect, no one is the suspect. Thus, the sifting and winnowing begins. Magazine archives must be searched for the offending reviews. Actual relationships that existed then and now must be determined. Some investigation establishes that alcoholism and AA play a significant part. It turns out that the art community is a very competitive and jealous lot, at least in Montreal.

Like most mystery-series writers, Louise Penny’s books are written to be enjoyed, and sold, individually. More than any of the other series authors I read, though, she refers to happenings in earlier books and ends her stories in such a way as to leave several details open for a next book. For example, second in command, Inspector Beauvoir, is dealing with the pain of an earlier encounter with pills, but we’ll have to wait until the next book to find out if this is resolved.

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