“Glass Houses” by Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, Copyright 2017, 391 pages, $28.99
As an accused murderer stands trial in a hot Montreal courtroom on a July morning, the Crown Prosecutor questions Armand Gamache. Gamache is the Chief Police Superintendent of Quebec and he has been called as a witness because of being the arresting officer. It quickly becomes evident to the new presiding judge that Gamache and the Crown Prosecutor dislike each other and that there is an uncomfortable undercurrent in the courtroom between the two senior civil servants even though they would routinely cooperate in such matters.
As a result of a flashback, the reader learns that the defendant in the case is charged with the bludgeoning murder of a woman in the quiet Canadian village of Three Pines, near the US-Canadian border. Three Pines is a very small village and the site of Superintendent Gamache’s vacation home where he routinely spends time with his wife, married daughter, grandchildren, and longtime friends and neighbors.
The previous November, the serenity of Three Pines had been disturbed by a mysterious cloaked and hooded figure who stood silent vigil for several days on the town square and seemed to frighten and intimidate the villagers. Because the silent sentinel committed no crime, Gamache was powerless to force its expulsion from the village. The theory among the locals and a handful of visitors to the town was that this unknown figure was something called a cobrador or conscience and that the unusual and menacing figure had been sent to right a moral wrong or collect a debt of honor.
The cobrador stayed in the village for several days without any clue as to its identity or sight of its face. Townspeople began to speculate that someone in their midst had a guilty secret and to examine the lives of both native dwellers and the few outsiders to the village. These newcomers include four “thirtysomething” friends staying in the local bed & breakfast for a college reunion and some newly hired domestic workers at the local tavern and bakery.
One of the four friends visiting Three Pines is an architect famed for her design and study of glass houses. Hence, the title of the novel, but there is also the insinuation that crime creates heightened suspicion and the implication of the famous aphorism “those living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
After the cobrador disappears abruptly, one of the four college friends is found murdered in the basement of the local church and Gamache and his son-in-law and right-hand assistant must question everyone in Three Pines about their background and whereabouts on the night of the murder. Meanwhile, Gamache is feeling a lot of pressure from the public and from police officials to make inroads on the problem of cross-border drug trafficking and the rising use of illicit drugs and a large-scale drug raid somewhere in his jurisdiction seems eminent.
Author Louise Penny, a six time Agatha award winner, describes the courtroom drama in broad strokes and maintains suspense by suggesting collusion at the trial and by not revealing the accused until the murder motive comes into focus. “Glass Houses” is recommended as an intense, atmospheric, and unsettling read about a man struggling with his moral compass.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.