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Old 09-04-2011, 09:14 AM   #1
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Louise Penny, newest book

I just finished reading A Trick of The Light last evening.
There is a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and drinking in the book.
It seemed a bit strange as the plot would have done just as well without it.
I wondered why it was put into the book.
Has anyone read this and have any thoughts?
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Old 09-04-2011, 12:48 PM   #2
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AA serves as an overarching metaphor in this book - operating on all levels - from the blatantly obvious of Jean Guy Beauvoir's addiction to pain pills & watching the internet video to Gamache's recurring guilt over losing team members to the acceptance of Olivier back into Three Pines to the achingly bizarre attachment of Ruth Zardo to Rosa to the impact of AA on the murder victim and the suspects .... the list is almost endless.

One of the main precepts of AA is forgiveness - the forgiveness of others and the forgiveness of yourself - for all the pain & tragedies caused by one's addiction. Another is the acceptance of human beings as imperfect - prone to keep making mistakes and lying, etc. - but still human beings. The 12 Steps are not a one-way street, and may never be completed. Yet another is the acceptance that addicts hit rock bottom before beginning the program. All these, and more, principles drive the actions of the characters.

All of these precepts play out over & over in the population of Three Pines. Penny's mysteries aren't police procedurals. They are richly human stories of the impact of brutal murders on a small, closely knit community - a community in every sense of the word. At one point in this book, Gamache puts a licorice pipe into his mouth like Maigret's pipe [also note the punning references to Magritte's pipe] - which recall the classic Simenons' mysteries in which Inspector Maigret solved murder cases by living in the tiny provincial towns where the murder victim and suspects lived - learning to understand the personalities & petty politics that drive human behavior in such small isolated communities; living there without judgements, but only close compassionate observation. Penny's descriptions of Gamache closely mirror Simenons' depiction of Maigret - two deeply human, caring, and kind policemen with a strong sense of justice overlain with compassion and decency, willing to take the time to fully understand the human motives and reasons that led to the brutal crime under investigation.

Some reviewers have compared Three Pines to Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders - in that murders repeatedly occur in a tiny isolated village with the same set of suspects [again Penny has her characters ponder tongue-in-cheek if they should permanently locate a homicide unit in the fire station]. Penny avoids the cliches inherent in such a set-up by focusing on character development. Three Pines contains a rich collection of characters - quirky, flawed, damaged, human - whose rich layers of personality are explored even more deeply in each succeeding book - both the police personnel and the villagers. The characters lie to each other, to themselves, and to us. But Penny makes the reader care about them, to want to know the why (however banal or venal) behind actions good and evil. That is the strength of her books.
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Old 09-05-2011, 10:16 AM   #3
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Thank you for your reply. I have all of the Penny books. My problem with the AA sections was that they were heavy handed. I understand about the pill addiction and forgiveness, but it had struck me as odd that she was quite repeptive about it.
I do think the book would have been a lot better if Penny had stuck to the plot line. Her characters motives are plain and easy to figure out. Her books are in the mystery genre and the mystery should take first place.
A lot of crime novels have great characters and talk about many things other than murder.
I was also uncomfortable with the paragraph or two about Jesus.
John Harvey does an excellent job with the issues that Penny was writing about.
There are many writers that do this well. I just thought that Penny went astray.
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Old 09-05-2011, 11:19 AM   #4
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Excellent summary, PB. Karma coming your way.
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