Detective Novel Set in Art World

CD cover: A Trick of the Light
Destination: Montreal area, Canada

Book: A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel  by Louise Penny (NEW 8/30/2011) from St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio

Thank you, Macmillan Audio, for sending me A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel on CD just in time for my road trip to Santa Fe.  A mystery is just the thing for our road trips, because both Ken and I  generally like mysteries, and they keep our interest without demanding deep concentration.  I had a great experience with Back of Beyond by C. J. Box on my road trip in Nova Scotia.


However, I will tell you right up front that I would have enjoyed  A Trick of the Light more in print form… maybe.  Because it is set in Quebec Province of Canada — Montreal and the fictional village of Three Pines, most of the names are French and characters use French language expressions liberally.  Even though I know  a little French, I was uncomfortable not being able to visualize the words, particularly names, on the page.

Oldest House in Montreal
Oldest House in Montreal

The second problem with an audio book like this–there are LOT of characters to keep track of. Had I been reading a physical book (or even an e-book), I would have been able to turn back and find a reminder of who was who. Third, I simply did not like the reader, Ralph Cosham.  The press release states that Ralph Cosham has read all Louise Penny‘s previous six audiobooks, and quotes AudioFile Magazine’s review, “My only quibble is that the Penny-Cosham team kept me listening past my bedtime.”

My problem was not  missing my bedtime  as we drove through the wide open spaces of southern Arizona and New Mexico. Rather, I had trouble staying awake. I found Cosham’s tone tedious and lacking the clear differentiation between characters that makes for an outstanding audio book experience.

A point in this book’s favor is its setting in Montreal, which we fell in love with when we visited in 2001. The old brick buildings, the gilded and gorgeous Church of Notre Dame, the amazing French restaurants, the pommes frites, the street musicians, the waterfront–Montreal is a prime travel destination.

The inside view of a cut-throat world of art, museums and critics should have been just my cup of tea.  In talking to Chief Inspector Gamache, one of the art dealers says “It’s a vicious place, full of greed and fear.” And that provides plenty of backstory and lots of people with motives to murder a former art critic in the garden of Clara Morrow, an artist celebrating her first showing at the Musée  Montreal. (Moan-ree-Al)

Angel on top of Chapel of Bons Secours, Montreal
Angel on top of Chapel of Bons Secours, Montreal

The title refers to the chiaroscuro effect–light and dark contrasting in paintings, and by extension, the contrast between the dark side and the “light”, or good side, of people and between the truth and lies the policeman must sift through.

The cast of characters has gathered in the small village of  Three Pines, invited to a party to celebrate Clara’s success. The author lives in a similar small town near Montreal, and clearly understands the dynamics of village life. Reading about this village–despite the fact that it is the site of a murder–makes one want to wander the roads near Montreal in search of a similar little Eden.

All of this adds up to exciting potential for a police novel, but for me it fell flat. The story develops ever so slowly, and lacks any real excitement. Gamache solves the crime mainly by his  intellectual musings. He is an extraordinarily intelligent and well-informed policeman. But the classic “gather all the suspects in a room” ending drags on for several pages before wrapping up the case.

Louise Penny writes New York Times bestsellers, gobbled up by readers in The United States and Great Britain (and presumably Canada). However, her style is not for me–particularly not as read on this audio book.  Your mileage may vary, (after all she sells super amounts of books and gets great reviews) and if you disagree, please let me know.


Disclaimers: As I mentioned above, Macmillan Audio provided this book for review. The pictures are scans of print photos taken on our trip to Montreal in 2001, all rights reserved. I have provided a link to Amazon, and if you are inclined to order anything from Amazon, please use my link because I earn a few cents when you do. Thanks.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

6 thoughts on “Detective Novel Set in Art World

  1. I think I’d agree with you that I would like to have this in actual book form or an e-reader book- rather than audio- when there are too many characters and places to keep track of…it is always nice to be able to flip back…not to have to rewind and relisten 🙂

  2. I like to read detective novels in order, and doing so might have made a difference in your review of this book. Maybe not. 😉

    For the Maisie Dobbs series, I do hope you’ll read the first book before any others. IMO it’s critical insight into Maisie’s character and stage setting for the following novels.

    I’ll watch for the BIG giveaway!

  3. I love art, and I love Montreal – crime tales, not so much. Maybe I’ll flip through it next time I’m at the bookstore (yes, I still go to those!) and see if I’ll dig it.

    1. I really love detective stories, and Montreal is definitely one of my favorite cities. Since they are giving a party in the book, and have a lot of meetings at a cafe, there IS a lot of talk about food you’d probably enjoy. And by the say, Casey, you simply must get the Inspector Brunetti Cookbook that goes with the Donna Leon novels set in Venice. I’ve always noticed how food-centric her police detective novesl are, and maybe they might even win you over to the genre.

  4. Oh, I LOVE the Inspector Gamache series! I just started reading it this summer, and read all the books (except this newest) in about two weeks. I’m forcing myself to wait for “A Trick of the Light” on reserve at the library instead of buying it in hardback … I really don’t want to wait!

    I’ve not heard the audio versions, but can honestly say that the tone, the likeable and quirky cast of characters (especially Gamache), and the intricate plots of Penny’s books make her one of my favorite authors. I don’t read much mystery anymore, but make exceptions for Donna Leon (Commissario Brunetti), Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs), and Louise Penny.

    1. Well, like I said, “your mileage may vary”. Thank goodness we don’t all like the same things, or we’d only be able to keep one writer afloat. I certainly agree with you about Donna Leon, and Winspear is still on my TBR list. And Colleen–I have a BIG Giveaway coming up. Maybe you can win an audiobook!

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