Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

Book Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

We are in Week 9 of sheltering-in-place, and I finally feel settled enough to implement a routine that involves spending some time doing creative writing every week. I think finally having the emotional bandwidth to risk writing poorly on a regular basis somewhere other than on my blog or in my journal is an excellent sign. Maybe one day soon I’ll even have enough emotional reserve to indulge my curiosity by exploring some random question in an obnoxiously in-depth manner.

I hope that you also find yourself in a more comfortable place, if not now, then soon.

I didn’t post last week, but I have been reading. I’ve only reviewed one book in this post, though, because the review is on the longer side.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Book cover for Louise Penny's Glass Houses shows an extreme close-up of a shattered glass window on an icy blue background.
Genre: Adult MysteryPublisher: Minotaur Books
Year Published: 2017Format: Audiobook
Source: LibraryPGR: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Glass Houses

“When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead.

“From the moment the creature’s shadow falls over the village, Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec, suspects it has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing. What can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.

“But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied.

“Months later, on a steamy July day, as the trial for the accused begins in Montréal, Chief Superintendent Gamache continues to struggle with actions he set in motion that bitter November from which there is no going back. More than the accused is on trial. Gamache’s own conscience is standing in judgment.

“In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.”

From the book description on Goodreads

Pandemic Guest Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Published in 2017, the central question of Glass Houses is one that hits me hard as an US reader in 2020. It’s couched in the war against drugs, but must be a question that law enforcement and intelligence officers struggle with every day. Basically, how much of an increase in crime/corruption is it ok to tolerate in the interest of waiting until you can make the sort of final strike that takes the entire criminal organization down?

If you choose to use your resources to strike at the top instead of tinkering at the edges with a series of smaller arrests, what toll does that take on you as you watch the citizens you are sworn to protect suffer while you wait for the right time to act?

How do you know if/when you’ve tolerated too much? And when the costs become even greater than you feared, do you stick with the plan or jump early and risk doing all of that work, tolerating all of that added pain and corruption, for nothing?

In Glass Houses, we see Gamache wrestle with each of these questions, and are given an intimate portrait of the toll it takes on him, his lieutenants, the various government officials roped into this scheme either with or without their explicit consent, and the villagers of Three Pines. There is a fair amount of mental philosophizing about the pros and cons of all of this, but I found it fascinating.

Before I go, a word about format

If you haven’t listened to one of Louise Penny’s books as an audiobook yet, but have a convenient way to do so without incurring an unaffordable expense, I highly recommend that you treat yourself to one of the three narrated by Robert Bathurst (#11-13). Robert Bathurst is a relatively new narrator for the series (the first 10 were narrated by Ralph Cosham), and while Cosham was fine, I like Bathurst much better.

When done well, listening to an audiobook is like treating yourself to a private theatrical performance, and in my opinion, Bathurst has a broader emotional range than Cosham. Both Cosham and Bathurst capture the darker aspects of the narrative, namely the pain/anger/angst in the murderer, the villagers, the victim, Gamache, and his officers. But Bathurst has better comedic timing, and does a better job drawing out the humor in the villagers and their interpersonal relationships without making them appear ridiculous. It turns out that the dialogue between the residents of Three Pines can be laugh out loud funny, and not just the comfortable rudeness of people who know each other all too well.

After listening to Bathurst’s interpretation of Glass Houses, I gained a much deeper appreciation of the role Ruth in particular plays in these novels. How much of that is the story Penny wrote and how much the way Bathurst interpreted it is a little hard to sort out, but Bathurst’s interpretation of Ruth definitely helped.

Finally, if you do decide to listen to Glass Houses as an audiobook, I highly recommend that you stick around for the Author’s Note (read by Louise Penny herself), and for the conversation between Penny and Robert Bathurst at the end of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Reminder: My Pandemic Guest Scale

☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️: Great Guest! I would absolutely read more books by this author during the pandemic. I might even reread this one.

☕️☕️☕️☕️: Good Guest. I enjoyed our time together and would look for more books from this writer, even if I don’t read this particular one again.

☕️☕️☕️: Meh. The book was fine, and I don’t regret reading it, but I may not look for more from this author right now. Maybe after the pandemic.

☕️☕️: Would Not Invite Again. The book itself was good enough to finish, but I wouldn’t read more from this author.

☕️: So Many Regrets. If I am doing this right, I’ll never use this ranking, because it basically means I forced myself to power through a book I didn’t enjoy.

As a reminder, although I’m only reviewing a subset of the books here, you can see everything I’ve read so far (and its preliminary Pandemic Guest Rating), on my Read in quarantine Twitter thread or my Goodreads page.

Number of books remaining on my own Currently Reading list: Holding steady at 39.

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