Q&A: Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s latest novel, How the Light Gets In, again features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. In this ninth series entry, Gamache is coping with professional upheaval when he must return to Three Pines to investigate the disappearance of village resident Myrna Landers’s longtime friend.

The previous Inspector Gamache novel, an Audie Award winner, was essentially a locked-room mystery set in a monastery, while the new book finds the inspector back in Three Pines among people he knows. Do you think he prefers cases where all possible suspects are strangers to him, or ones in which he has some familiarity with at least some of the people involved? Do you have a preference when it comes to plotting and writing?

What a fun question. I’ve just asked the chief, and he says each case presents its difficulties. With strangers it’s getting to know what might be “normal” for them, before being able to recognize “abnormal” behavior and reactions. With people he knows and likes, it’s being able to look at them clearly and not through the prism of “wishful thinking.” For myself, I love writing both and need to write both. I find that I get better as a writer if I stretch. Much like anyone in any job…if we’re challenged, we learn and grow. I have no desire to fall into a formula. The Gamache series is written for the love of it and part of that love is exploring new territory, for him and for me.

Lucky you, having Ralph Cosham as the voice of the series! What’s it like for you as the author to see a narrator bring your character to life so richly and fully?

I am lucky! At every event on my tour for How the Light Gets In I get swamped with questions about Ralph. How did he come to be chosen? What’s he like? How old is he? Is he married? And some people just want to tell me how much they love how he brings the characters, particularly Gamache, alive. It is a gift beyond measure to have such a ridiculously perfect narrator, especially someone who also happens to be a lovely, thoughtful, kind man.

Do you think that listeners are best served by starting at the beginning of the series? Or could they jump in at any point?

Each book is designed to stand alone, but since it’s a series with a very strong narrative arc, I think it will always be a more rewarding experience if people start at the beginning. But, again, it isn’t necessary. Just suggested.

Does the title, which comes from a Leonard Cohen song, have a particular resonance for you or the character or this book specifically?

It certainly has a personal resonance. It comes from a poem by Leonard Cohen, which he later turned into the song “Anthem.” The entire quote is: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ forget your perfect offering/ there’s a crack in everything/ that’s how the light gets in.” For many years I didn’t write because I thought the book had to be perfect, and since it couldn’t be, I didn’t dare even try. But when I read those Cohen words I felt released from that bondage…one that has applied, I realize, to so many areas of my life. When I realized that not only did I not have to be perfect but that it would be self-defeating…well, I was free. And many of the characters come to that, too—while their lives, and events, might be shattering, maybe they had to. Maybe things had to change. Maybe in that explosion comes an awareness that would never have penetrated before.

Are you working on another Inspector Gamache novel? Anything you’d like to share?

Yes, I am. And, no, would rather not share (sneaky question!).—Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.