61 pages 2 hours read

Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


Published by Minotaur Books in 2013, How the Light Gets In is the ninth book in Louise Penny’s bestselling Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series. The series is famous for its heroic protagonist, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of the homicide division at the Sûreté du Québec. The novel comprises of three narratives: the murder of Constance Ouellet, the internal conflict at the Sûreté, and the mysterious death of a clerk at the Ministry of Transport. As Gamache navigates these conflicts, Penny explores the nature of reality, isolation and connection, and courageous leadership.

Please be advised that How the Light Gets In depicts death by suicide and substance abuse.

Plot Summary

In the previous novel in the series, A Beautiful Mystery, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s beloved second-hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, relapses into his addiction after nudging from Francoeur, the corrupt Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, the police service for the Canadian province. When Gamache suspends Beauvoir and demands Beauvoir return to rehab, Beauvoir attacks him and joins Francoeur’s department. At the start of How the Light Gets In, Francoeur has transferred the rest of the homicide division to other departments, except for the loyal agent, Isabelle Lacoste. The rest of Gamache’s previous team is replaced with incompetent agents. Gamache collaborates with his friend, Superintendent Thérèse Brunel, and her husband, Jérôme, a retired amateur computer hacker, to discover what Francoeur is hiding. They suspect he leaked a video of a factory raid from a few years ago, which killed many agents and left Beauvoir and Gamache wounded. The video tormented Beauvoir and drove him into his addiction. When Jérôme discovers a watcher in the Sûreté database, they realize that time is short, and Francoeur is monitoring them. Jérôme found the name Pierre Arnot in his search, hinting that the corruption Gamache fought to remove from the Sûreté is alive and well.

After faking an argument in the Sûreté, Gamache and Thérèse secretly flee to Three Pines, where they are off the grid. They hide as Gamache works Constance Ouellet’s murder case. With the help of Agent Yvette Nichol, an insolent and unlikable agent who works with security cameras, and Gilles, a retired lumberjack, they establish an internet connection. Knowing there is little time before Francoeur discovers what they are up to, Gamache tries to throw him off track by acting strangely in a therapy session he knows is being taped. He even tells Lacoste that he is going to retire soon and tries to get Beauvoir to leave with him, but Beauvoir yells at him and pushes him to the door.

Gamache and Thérèse clash over when to hack into the database and over Gamache bringing Nichol to Three Pines. Eventually, they hack into the Sûreté database, where Jérôme and Nichol work quickly before Francoeur’s heightened security catches them. They discover old construction records and eventually piece together that companies have been paid for work that hasn’t been done in years, leaving bridges and tunnels on the brink of collapse. The prior factory raid had been to stop terrorists from destroying an aqueduct, leaving millions without power. Gamache realizes that Francoeur and the Premier of Québec intend to destroy the Champlain Bridge and seize power during the public uproar. Audrey Villeneuve, a clerk at the Ministry of Transport, was murdered for discovering that the tunnel was about to collapse. When Francoeur discovers that they are in Three Pines, he has Beauvoir drive him there.

Simultaneously, Gamache works to solve the murder of Constance Pinault, an old friend of Myrna Landers, one of the residents of Three Pines. Constance was supposed to return to Three Pines for Christmas, but Gamache and Lacoste discover that she was murdered in her home. Constance’s real last name is Ouellet—she is the last of the Ouellet Quintuplets, a set of sisters whose miraculous birth made them celebrities. To find Constance’s killer, Gamache interviews his friends in Three Pines who had met Constance: the old poet, Ruth, business owners Gabri and Olivier, and the artist, Clara. Although Constance had been reserved when she arrived, she’d started to warm up to others before her death. Gamache suspects that after her last sister died, Constance was finally ready to open up to Myrna, her old therapist, about her childhood.

After convincing a librarian to let him access sealed records, Gamache is able to study Constance’s past in earnest. After nearly a decade of infertility, her mother went to see Frère André, who was credited with healing her since she gave birth to quintuplets months later. They were the first naturally conceived and delivered quintuplets and became immediate celebrities, along with Dr. Bernard, the physician who allegedly delivered them. Gamache suspects that the government made Dr. Bernard look heroic, since the Québeca, like the Ouellet parents, were considered incompetent. It appears that the parents sold their daughters to the government and then begged for more money. Gamache finds reels of the girls banging on the door, only to be shooed out by their mother. He realizes how mistreated and lonely the girls really were. The key to Constance’s murder is a hat she was going to give Myrna for Christmas, initialed “MA.” At first, Gamache thinks that the hat belonged to Constance’s mother. Two details hint that it actually belongs to her secret brother, Marc-André: The DNA on the hat belongs to a male relative, and all the boys in the extended Ouellet family had the first name “Marc.” Constance told Myrna about her Brother André, but Myrna assumed she meant Frère André, the priest credited with their miraculous birth.

For much of the novel, Gamache wonders whether Constance was really the last of her sisters, or if Virginie, who appeared to die by suicide, was still living in hiding. Gamache realizes that Constance’s secrecy was not just her wanting to hide from the private eye, but because of a horrible secret in her family: her brother appears to have accidentally killed Virginie when they were young. His entire life was hidden, since his sisters’ fame relied on their birth being a lone miracle. When Gamache interviews the girls’ Uncle André, a bitter old man who lived with the girls’ father, he realizes that Uncle André is actually their brother–and Constance’s killer. Gamache solves the mystery the night before Francoeur comes to Three Pines. He writes the details of the case in letters for Myrna and Lacoste, knowing that he might die that day.

The climax of both conflicts takes place in Three Pines. Olivier, Gabri, Myrna, Clara, and Ruth, bravely hide the Brunels and Nichol, while pretending to help Francoeur and Beauvoir. Gamache and Francoeur meet in the woods, where Francoeur sneers at Gamache for sending a message about his resignation to the whole Sûreté. This was actually a secret message for Gamache’s loyal agents whom Francoeur had dispersed throughout he Sûreté. Upon receiving the secret message, Isabelle Lacoste shut down the Champlain Bridge before its collapse, and Gamache’s agents arrested Renard and Francoeur’s men. After battling in the snow, Gamache shoots Francoeur, then runs to the schoolhouse where he believes a bomb will kill Beauvoir. Beauvoir realizes that Gamache has cared for him all along. When he sees Gamache running toward the schoolhouse—which will explode when the doors open—Beauvoir shoots Gamache to stop him. The book ends a few months later, at Beauvoir’s wedding in Three Pines. Gamache has retired and moved to Three Pines, Beauvoir is sober and thriving, and Lacoste is the new Chief Inspector of Homicide.

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