Mysteries

Mysteries: Penny resolves ‘beautiful mystery’

smacknee@mcclatchy.comAugust 10, 2013 

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny. Minotaur, 416 pages.

Here it is at last – after a whole year on tenterhooks, we get to see how the heartbreaking rift at the end of “The Beautiful Mystery” will resolve.

As readers discovered in “The Brutal Telling,” Louise Penny doesn’t coddle her audience with neatly packaged happy endings every time; but we also discovered that there might be redemption in the next book.

So we hung on after last year’s cliffhanger and, friends, it was well worth it.

“How The Light Gets In” (taken from the Leonard Cohen lyric) begins with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache leading a greatly changed homicide team at the Surete du Quebec – disrespectful, sloppy – all part of a campaign within the department to force Gamache to resign.

A call from Three Pines draws him into a strange investigation involving the death of the last surviving member of a set of quintuplets, obviously modeled on the Dionne Quintuplets.

With that surreal story playing out in the open, Gamache begins quietly making his counter-play against his corrupt superiors and finally discovers their real motives, which in typical Penny fashion are on a far larger scale than anyone will believe until it’s almost too late.

Sandrine’s Case, by Thomas H. Cook, Mysterious Press, 352 pages.

Thomas H. Cook’s latest is reminiscent of his previous “The Last Talk with Lola Faye,” in which a man gets a new slant on the story of his own life, which he thought he already knew. Instead of a long conversation with flashbacks, this is an introspective courtroom drama with flashbacks.

Samuel Madison and his wife, Sandrine, are professors at a small Georgia college. After a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Sandrine overdoses on pills, but suspicion falls on Samuel and he finds himself on trial.

As he hears ever-more-damning testimony, he starts to wonder how mere chance could have put him so squarely in the hot seat.

It’s a simple story, but it gains layers in the telling, as Cook gradually unfolds details of the night Sandrine died and the truth finally dawns on Samuel.

The Hanging of Samuel Ash, by Sheldon Russell, Minotaur, 320 pages.

One-armed railroad “yard dog” Hook Runyon returns in his fourth outing, rolling up and down the lines in his specially fitted caboose or in a rattletrap truck that can run either on roads or rails.

When the story opens, he’s looking for a gang of pickpockets (who, embarrassingly, keep lifting his railroad ID). But his interest in the pickpockets pales when he goes to investigate a malfunctioning signal and finds that it’s being obstructed by a hanged body.

He runs into one roadblock after another in the course of identifying the body and trying to return it to next of kin.

My favorite part of the Hook Runyon stories is the World War II-era slang, scenery and culture. It’s like stepping out of the 21st-century maelstrom into a slower time.

Contact: smacknee@mcclatchy.com

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