‘Glass Houses’ by Louise Penny

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Three Pines was very near the U.S border. It had always served as a gateway into and out of the United States. At first, it was an early destination for British Loyalists to escape the Colonies. During Prohibition, it served as a gateway for illegal liquor into the states. Although it was not apparent yet, there might be a new player.

Gamache now made his home in Three Pines. He recently accepted the job as Superintendent of the Quebec Provincial Police, the person in charge of the whole force. The task was mammoth primarily because the prior leadership was corrupt and spent most of the time accepting bribes and covering their trails. Law enforcement had been sporadic with no established plan. Cartels were now the rule, and they had the upper hand. Quebec presently served as a drug highway into the United States. Gamache seemed to be doing little to stop it. In fact, he admitted to his leadership council that the drug war was already lost.

It was with that background that a really strange scene began to play out in Three Pines. A spooky, masked, black figure stood in the middle of the village green. Stood and stood and stood. The figure didn’t speak, not even when Gamache asked questions. Cloaked in black, it began to remind people of Death. What did it want?

One of the guests at the bed and breakfast offered some insight. There was a long-standing custom in Spain of using a Cobrador. The modern Cobrador was used as a way of embarrassing a debtor into paying the debt. The trick was for the Cobrador to stand nearby regardless of where the debtor went, saying nothing. Since everyone knew that meant there was an unpaid debt, it was quite effective. The only way to get rid of the Cobrador and thus the embarrassment was to pay the debt. The history of the Cobrador was more sinister. The debt was one of conscience. The Cobrador was a guilty conscience. The drab, black clothing suggested this was of the latter kind. It was far from clear who the target was, but it did look like it was staring at the bistro approximately where the new dishwasher, Anton, worked. Little was known about him; could he be the target?

As suddenly as the Cobrador had appeared, it was gone. Everyone was relieved. But the relief was short lived. Madam Gamache went into the church basement storeroom to find a vase and what she found was a murdered Corbador. When the mask was removed, it was Katie Evans, with her husband, an annual visitor to Three Pines. The immediate assumption was that the Corbrador had killed her and put her in the costume.

What is important here, as it turns out, is not the murder, but where it happened. The basement storeroom was once used by bootleggers as a part of the route to the border. Now the drug cartels had found it. “Glass Houses” is about as complex as Louise Penny gets. All is finally tied together in the end, including an explanation of the title.

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