LOUISE PENNY’S

Series Re-Read: Glass Houses

INTRODUCTION BY WILL SCHWALBE

On March 13, 2013, I received an email that would change my life in the most wondrous and unexpected way. I’d published six months before a memoir called The End of Your Life Book Club about the books I read with my mother when she was dying and had, as a result, been invited to give the Sandra Goldberg Lecture as part of a palliative care event at McGill University in Montreal. The lecture was to be structured as a conversation with an author whom I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to read: Louise Penny. She wrote me the kindest, most modest message introducing herself. It began, “Dear Will (if I may).” We started exchanging emails. It was all very formal and professional until Louise put the word “merde” into one of hers. Then we started exchanging jokes. I had rushed to the bookstore after her first missive and had instantly become obsessed with her work. I let her know that “I’d had a whole day of work planned but couldn’t and wouldn’t stop reading The Beautiful Mystery – and that I had many friends who had raved to me about her work and now I knew what they were talking about.”

We exchanged a few more emails, cc’ing the extraordinary organizer, Kappy Flanders, who wrote to us both: “This is great. It’s going to be a love-in.” That wasn’t the half of it.

First in an interview for CBC (I was embarrassed not to have known that Louise was also one of Canada’s most acclaimed broadcast journalists) and then on stage at the actual event we had a blast together. Talking about death, no less. It was as though we had been friends forever. I had rarely in my entire life met anyone with so much warmth, empathy, brilliance, and raucous good humor. After the conversation was over, they practically had to drag us off stage—and they literally had to turn off the lights in the facility to get us to leave when we were done signing.

So began a friendship that has become one of the great joys of my life. We continue to email each other about all sorts of things, sacred and profane. And get together wherever and whenever we possibly can. But I also get to meet Louise the same place everyone in the world does, and that’s on the page. After our time together, I went to the very start with Still Life and just kept reading Louise Penny novels until I was all caught up. I didn’t ration myself – I read greedily one after another.

It would be hard to say which of Louise’s novels is my favorite, impossible in fact. This is because together they make an extraordinary tapestry. You can read every one of her novels entirely on its own but the power of each grow exponentially as you read another. It’s not just that you gain more insight into the characters you have come to know and love, it’s something much more extraordinary. Louise is brilliant at taking on the great moral dilemmas of our time. With each new book we get to see Gamache and the others explore a different facet of what it means to be human. These are books that explore all the big questions that we need to ask ourselves as individuals and societies. Every book deepens the ones that we’ve read before, just as every big question we ask ourselves illuminates all of those we’ve already tried to answer.

What makes Glass Houses, published in 2017, one of my very favorites is that it explores the question of how far we are willing to go, and should go, for the greater good. What will we sacrifice, what can we sacrifice, to save others before we lose our own soul? Even more troubling is whether and when we can sacrifice others. This is a book about conscience and shame. It tackles the responsibilities we have towards one another. These were issues very much on all our minds during the year that Louise was writing this book, which is one of the reasons it resonated so deeply with me and continues to do so. It’s also astonishingly prescient about the devastation fentanyl would cause throughout North America and the world.

What follows is a recap (aka one enormous spoiler after another) intended as a way to jog the memory of readers who have already read the book. If that’s not you, stop reading right now. And I hope you will pardon me if I got something wrong; I was so caught up in Louise’s extraordinary prose while reading this again that I didn’t take as accurate notes as I should have done.

RECAP

Armand Gamache, Chief Superintendent of the Sûretè, is sitting uncomfortably in the witness box, “not his favorite place in the world,” on a sweltering July day. The judge, Maureen Corriveau, is new to the bench; this is her first homicide case. The Chief Crown Prosecutor is Barry Zalmanowitz.

Under questioning by Zalmanowitz, Gamache reveals that he first knew something was amiss in his village the night before the murder when a mysterious and ominous figure in a black hooded robe and black mask had appeared at the Three Pines village Halloween Party.

All of Gamache’s friends and neighbors had been at the party, along with four visitors who were staying at the B&B: Matheo Bissonette, a writer, and his wife, Lea Roux, a politician, and Katie and Patrick Evans, an architect and contractor famous for their work together building glass houses. The four were all thirty-three years old, college friends, and gathered for an annual reunion.

But when Gamache really knew something was amiss was the next morning, when he saw the hooded and masked figure standing on the village green and staring at the Bistro.

Gamache had questioned the silent figure to no avail. No one knows who he is or why he is there, including the Bistro’s new dishwasher Anton who one day hopes one day to be head chef. In the afternoon, the figure is still there, and the next morning, too.

Everyone (except for Ruth, the Village’s obstreperous poet) is unnerved, including the four visitors and the new helper in the boulangerie, Jacqueline, who has arrived three months previously. (It is clear to all that she is in love with Anton, though her feelings don’t seem to be returned).

The robed visitor leaves late the night of the second day but is back early the following morning.

The novel returns to the courtroom that following July where the judge puzzles over a curious thing: the clear antipathy between the Chief Crown Prosecutor and Gamache, when they should be allies. The trial appears to be going off the rails. But we find out that something of huge importance is taking place simultaneously: Gamache and his colleagues are engaged in an epic battle against drugs as part of a war that, just months before, they had been fairly certain they had already lost.

When the novel returns to the village and the events leading up to the murder, learn that Matheo had written an article about a type of Spanish debt collector called a cobrador del franc – who takes away your reputation, your good name. Wearing top-hat-and-tails, the debt collector follows the debtor, never speaking. The cobrador’s goal is to shame people into paying their debts. Mattheo and Lea think that this particular robed figure is following an even more ancient tradition of cobrador–one who brings shame for moral not financial debt.

Thanks to Jean-Guy’s research, Gamache learns that the tradition goes back to the 1300s, the time of the plague, when people who were visibly infected were sent to an island called Cobrador along with all sorts of other unfortunate souls. Jean-Guy reports that not everyone on that island died from the sickness; some survived. Because they were disfigured, they wore masks, gloves, and long hooded cloaks. They then went looking for those who banished them and then simply followed them, to shame them.

As Gamache reveals at the trial, he had concluded that “someone in the village had done something so horrific that a conscience had been called.”

Gamache stays in Montreal that night after the testimony, not returning to his wife, Reine-Marie, and the village, so that he can meet with Madeline Toussaint, the new head of serious crimes. She tells him that a shipment of drugs arrived two days prior. It’s eighty kilos of fentanyl; the largest shipment ever in North America of the deadliest drug in the world. The map Toussaint show him indicate that the drugs are intended for the US, and thus will need to be transported across the border—and that the logical route takes the drugs right through a village that isn’t even on the map: Three Pines. Clearly, Gamache and Madame Toussant have to stop the drugs from reaching the border, but Gamache insists that they stick to a plan they came up the previous year at the time of the murder as part of the effort to combat the drug trade. Toussaint and Jean-Guy argue passionately that they have to stop this particular shipment even if it destroys all the efforts that they’ve put into interrupting the broader drug trade. But Gamache insists they do nothing.

The novel then goes back in time and returns to the village before the murder while the cobrador is keeping his vigil outside the Bistro. Inside, Gamache and his friends all grapple with the shame they carry. Armand is haunted by a young man he killed when he made a wrong decision in a crisis. Was the cobrador there for him? Ruth says he could as well be there for her; she tells a story of a cousin who died ice skating after she goaded him into going with her and he went to save her when she fell through the ice, perishing in the effort. Others share similar stories of shame and guilt.

Soon, there’s a commotion outside: an angry crowd has gathered around the cobrador. Lea Roux, the politician, comes to the defense of the black-robed and hooded interloper, and Gamache joins her and convinces the villagers to disperse.  One man who was ready to beat the cobrador with a fireplace poker finally hands it over. His name is Paul Marchand. Marchand is taken away and it’s then that Gamache notices the sightline of the cobrador’s eyes: he’s looking at Jacqueline, framed in the boulangerie window.

The novel then returns to the trial, where the relationship between the Zalmanowitz and Gamache is becoming even more hostile.

Then we are back to the village where Anton has cooked a delicious meal and it’s revealed that he and Jacqueline had worked together previously, and both lost their jobs: she had been a nanny and he a private chef. Lea and Gamache discuss a bill Lea had tried to pass to aid in the war on drugs. It had been named after someone named Edouard but had failed, lacking public support. Edouard had been a roommate of Matheo at the university and part of their crowd, along with Patrick and Katie. He had died from suicide while high, Gamache learns, jumping off the roof of their residence.

Chapters 11-24:

The next morning, the cobrador is finally gone after the two days of vigil — and Gamache returns to Montreal to share a strategy session over lunch with Madeleine Toussant. That afternoon, he gets a call from Reine-Marie, his wife, who has found the cobrador dead in the church basement’s root cellar. Gamache and Jean-Guy race to Three Pines. Once there, he discovers that Paul Marchand, the man who had threatened the cobrador with the fireplace poker, had been released earlier that morning.

Agents arrive on the scene along with Isabelle Lacoste, who enters the root cellar with Gamache. They see the body is just where Reine-Marie had said it would be. Soon, they are joined by the coroner. When Lacoste pulls back the mask to reveal the identity of the now dead cobrador the identity is revealed: It’s Katie Evans, the architect, one of the four friends there for the reunion. But Gamache had seen Katie in several places at the same time that the cobrador was standing vigil on the village green, so he knows she can’t be the original cobrador.

Gamache, Jean-Guy, and Lacoste suspect that Katie must have been the target of the cobrador who would by now be long gone. They suspect the murder happened during the night as Gamache had last seen the cobrador the night before but not that morning.

The novel returns to the courtroom where Gamache delivers a lecture on the role that conscience plays in stopping most of us from murdering one another, explaining that what makes people kill isn’t opportunity it’s emotion. This provokes an angry response from Zalmonowitz, who grabs Gamache by his arm and, in front of staring journalists, demands to know why Gamache is sabotaging the Crown’s case. He and Gamache (and Jean-Guy) then go to find a private room in which to confer but only after Zalmanowitz loudly calls Gamache a “prick.” Once in the room, it’s clear though that something else is going on and that the two are warring for show; that they are actually in cahoots. Their main worry is that Judge Corriveau is starting to suspect they are up to something, and we find out that she is indeed.

The whole plan that Gamache and Zalmonowitz have devised rests on everyone believing they detest each other. The genius of it is that they actually do. Judge Corriveau is sure she knows the reason why they are putting on this show: to catch a bigger predator. And that is indeed it: Gamache had approached Zalmanowitz with the plan months before, in November, long before the trial. Both have had to keep their plan totally secret, knowing that if the plan failed it would end both their careers. But it’s a risk they are willing to take.

The novel goes back to the immediate aftermath of the murder when Patrick Evans finds out that his wife has been killed. The last time he had seen her was the night before. He tells Lacoste and the others that she liked to go for walks in the evening. Gamache then questions Matheo, asking him where they had gone for dinner. Matheo volunteers that it was a place in the nearby town of Knowlton. But as the questioning continues, Patrick starts to slur his words and then slumps sideways out of his chair. Lea tells everyone that she gave him an Ativan just before everyone arrived, because he was starting to panic. She’d also poured him a scotch. A doctor is called and confirms he has passed out but will be fine after some rest. In further conversation, Lea reveals that Katie could have had a relationship with their friend from college, Edouard—who had either killed himself or accidentally fallen from a height—but that she chose Patrick instead.

After the body has been taken away, Anton and Jacqueline are talking about how they were told about the whole concept of cobradors the year prior. We learn that there is information that they could have shared with Gamache but didn’t.  Gamache has a conversation about the crime scene with Rene-Marie and only then realizes that she never mentioned seeing the bloody bat, meaning that it probably wasn’t at the crime scene when she found the body, but strangely was there an hour-and-a-half later when he and Lacoste entered the root cellar. Based on other information, there was only a ten-minute window of time when the bat could have been returned to the crime scene.

Again, the novel goes back to the trial. We soon see that everything depends on whether Gamache does or doesn’t tell the truth about the bat. If he does, that blows not just the chance of a conviction in the murder of Katie Evans but puts agents and informants in danger and ruins the possibility of stopping the largest single drug trafficker in Quebec. When Zalmanowitz asks Gamache about the bat, he lies.

Jean-Guy sees this for what it is: the crossing of a Rubicon. Between the time when the question is asked and Gamache answers, he leaves the courtroom and heads over to meet with Toussaint. From their conversation, we find out that a big shipment of fentanyl, one they had been tracking, had been fully in their grasp—and they had done nothing. They had just let it cross the border in the United States. This had been the ultimate test—a way to convince the drug cartel that the new boss of the Sûretè, Gamache, was clueless and so they could operate with impunity. Toussaint, Jean-Guy, and Gamache had all agreed to this plan in advance—but it involved letting a quantity of fentanyl through that would kill hundreds or even thousands. Toussaint is wavering but Jean-Guy convinces her to stay the course. It’s then that she gets word of another shipment, small in comparison to what they just tracked, but of a new drug popular in Russia. It has arrived in a container of nesting dolls and is sitting in a warehouse. The cartel seems to be waiting for the outcome of the trial before moving it.

It’s at this point that a phrase that has been alluded to throughout is explained: Burn the Ships. It was the Spanish explorer Cortes who had ordered his men to do it when they landed in Mexico so that there would be no way out. It was a phrase that Gamache had scribbled on a napkin at lunch with Toussaint.

The novel returns to the period right after the murder when Jean-Guy had driven into Montreal to let Katie’s older sister, Beth, know she’d been killed. Beth and her husband confess that they didn’t much like Patrick; that he was manipulative with Katie. Beth also tells him that Katie had an abortion in high school and that the father was Beth’s husband; he’d dated Katie for a few weeks in high school. They go together to search Katie’s house, but all Jean-Guy finds of interest is a picture of the five college friends from their first year at university in Montreal. He takes it with him.

While that is happening, Matteo, Lea, and Patrick are talking. Lea says that the police are going to find out eventually. They had lied when they said they knew nothing; in fact, they knew everything.

Chapters 25-35

An agent sent to the restaurant in Knowlton is unable to confirm whether Patrick and Katie had been there for dinner the night of the murder. Lacoste and Jean-Guy meet at the root cellar in the church basement and trade theories: Lacoste reminds him that Anton and Jacqueline worked together for a private family before coming to the village. She also notes that they won’t answer any questions about their former employer, simply saying that the family moved. The family’s name was Ruiz and they had been transferred home—to Spain.

Meanwhile, Gamache, Reine-Marie, Myrna and Clara have been having a conversation about the Nuremberg trials and the defense that many Nazis used: that they were just following orders. They discuss the reason Pinocchio could never be a real boy – not that he was made from wood but because he didn’t have a conscience. They agree that someone in the village might be a genuine psychopath.

Back at the trial, the judge calls Zalmanowitz and Gamache into her chambers. As they are waiting to see her, Jean-Guy appears back after meeting Toussaint. But there is now a huge gulf between him and Gamache because he fled the courtroom rather than watch Gamache lie.

Gamache and Jean-Guy talk briefly alone and that’s when Jean-Guy tells him that the cartel left fentanyl behind to sell in Montreal. At least ten kilos. And that they’ve lost track of it. Five hundred people in Quebec were alive right then who would do not to mention the thousands in the US. He also tells him about the new Russian drug in the nesting dolls that has been sitting for two days in the warehouse. Gamache needs to go into the judge’s chambers as ordered. But he first instructs Jean-Guy to convene a meeting in the conference room with “everyone.”

In the meeting, Gamache finally starts to explain all to the judge, including their discovery that there is one cartel in Canada that dominates all the others. For years they had missed it because the person running the cartel had made himself invisible and, if spotted, dismissible. The structure was essentially a glass house. On the day Katie Evans’s body was discovered, he further explains, he had been at a strategy lunch with Superintendent Toussaint, head of Serious Crimes. That’s when Toussaint had used the expression, “Burn our ships.” That would become the plan.

Gamache had ordered that all the resources of the Sûretè to be focused on finding the source of the drugs, effectively gutting all the other departments. The drug trade had then grown—because they let it. The strategy: They needed to cartel to believe that they were incompetent. But all the while they were working with informants, undercover agents, and the like. The judge says she needs time to consider what to do; she will be back to them at eight am the next morning.

The novel returns to the investigation immediately following the murder. Jean-Guy has gained insight about the role the church played during prohibition when liquor was smuggled from Canada to the US. Jean-Guy goes to the Bistro to pick up a casserole for the chief and learns it has been made by Anton, the dishwasher. Soon, the two of them are carrying dinner across the green to the chief’s. They soon realize that they are both in recovery. Anton says that he was a drug user and, for a short time, a dealer, but finally was sent by his parents to get treatment. In a halfway house he had discovered he loved to cook and then had landed the job with the Ruiz family. He says that he and Jacqueline met there but were like brother and sister, not romantically involved.

Jean-Guy then says to Anton that he must have known from his time with the Ruiz’s what a cobrador was. Anton says he promised Jacqueline he wouldn’t say anything; that she wanted to be the one to tell. And that they were afraid of Ruiz. Anton reveals that Ruiz had been arrested for money laundering and that the entire company was under investigation but exonerated. There was even a video from the news that Anton calls up for Jean-Guy that shows Ruiz’s lawyer on the courthouse steps with a cobrador in frame.

At the same time, Gamache has gone behind the church to look for something, playing the flashlight from his phone over the back wall of the church.

The novel returns to the break in the trial. Gamache and Toussaint have assembled the entire team of officers. But Toussaint has difficult news. There were two shipments of nesting dolls: one with the drugs and one without. The one with the drugs has left the warehouse. It’s unclear if it’s yet crossed the border. They’ve also found that the head of the American syndicate is in Vermont, just across the border. The heads of both the Quebec and East Coast cartels, it seems, will be meeting. Lacoste is on site.

Later, Gamache is getting ready for the events ahead and has a tense visit from Jean-Guy. But the mood lightens when Jean-Guy realizes that he crossed the same line, when he went along with Gamache’s instructions in laying the trap.

Back at Three Pines, Lacoste is at the Bistro.  She finds out that Lea and Matheo have returned and are staying at the B&B.

The novel then returns to the scene of the crime, right after Gamache’s examination of the back of the church. As he suspected there is a hidden door built into the back wall that was built during prohibition, to get booze from Canada to the US. That’s how the bloody bat was returned. The share the finding immediately with Lacoste and soon realize that Anton, the cook, must have been the person who sold Edouard drugs before he killed himself. They decide to keep the hidden door a secret. They also get the DNA results from the bat, but consider them possibly a purposeful misdirection, which would explain why the bat was removed and then replaced.

Shortly after, Jacqueline walks over to Gamache’s house to confess to the murder of Katie Evans.

The novel returns to preparations for the impending operation to catch the drugs before they cross the border and finally break the cartel. But when Gamache and Jean-Guy are just fifteen minutes away from Three Pines, Isabel calls with news that the head of the American cartel is in the Bistro. They can’t arrest him there; they need to catch him in the act. There’s an additional complication: Reine-Marie is there, too, with Jean-Guy’s wife Annie, who is the daughter of Gamache and Reine-Marie, and also with Gamache and Reine Marie’s granddaughter. Gamache wants Ruth to join them in the Bistro, too. This will keep the ruse up—as the American’s would never believe Gamache would put his family and friends in harm’s way. Neighbors Clara and Myrna are there, too.

The novel then returns to Jacqueline’s confession. Gamache has gathered Patrick, Matteo, and Lea at the Bistro. Now it’s their turn. Lea reveals that Jacqueline had come to them with the idea; that she had heard about the idea of the cobrador when working for the Ruiz family, which is what prompted Matteo to write his story about cobradors.

Jacqueline suggested they target Anton, to make him pay for selling drugs to their friend. Katie had convinced them all to go ahead with it. As it happened, they had all begged Anton to stop selling drugs to Edouard, Lea said, but he continued. And then, high, Edouard had leapt—while Katie, the love of his life, was having sex in a dorm room with his friend Patrick. They then reveal that they were all the cobrador, including Jacqueline and Katie. They had taken turns.

Jacqueline is Edouard’s sister.

Everyone thinks that it’s obvious that it was Anton who killed Katie, having snapped after seeing the cobrador accuse him day after day. But Gamache arrests Jacqueline for the murder.

The novel then comes back to the operation during the break in the trial. Soon, Gamache and Jean-Guy walk into the bistro, Gamache unarmed so as not to alarm his family. Gamache’s family leaves. And Lacoste along with Clara and Myrna leave with them. Lacoste then drives into the woods to put on her assault gear. Two large men enter the bistro with a packing crate and lower it to the flower next to the head of the American cartel. The boxes are stamped Matryushka Dolls. But the words are obscured with blotches, drips of red.

Anton is the head of the Canadian cartel. The boxes contain what is left of Anton’s couriers. This is a hostile takeover by the Americans.

Lacoste is now outside the bistro, waiting for a clear shot, but then feels a gun pressed to her ear. Anton wasn’t alone. He had his own bodyguard who now pushes Lacoste into the Bistro. The bodyguard is Paul Marchand, the very same person who had tried to attack the cobrador with the fireplace poker.

Gamache launches himself towards the bodyguard just as Isabelle plants her feet and thrusts back into her captor, with Jean-Guy springing to action right after Gamache.

Gunshots erupt in the bistro. There is chaos. Lacoste has been shot; she lies on the ground, eyes open and staring. Gamache kills Marchand but Anton disappears out of the back door with the American Cartel leader and his lieutenant in pursuit. Gamache and Jean-Guy follow in pursuit of them.

Toussaint has arrived with an assault team; they had been in wait in the woods. But when they had heard the shots, they had rushed into the village. So now Gamache and Jean-Guy are running right after the three into the arms of both cartels.

Anton stops and fires and a bullet that grazes Jean-Guy’s leg. The cartel soldiers from both sides hear the shots but there is a standoff. Until one of the younger members panics. Then it’s bedlam.

The American cartel leader makes it over the border, but Gamache is still in pursuit. He is fired at and then fires, killing the American.

The novel picks up a week later, with Gamache, Judge Corriveau and the Premier of Quebec together in an office.

We find out that Gamache had dragged the American back across the Canadian border but, when asked, admits that the thinks he killed him on American soil. The cartel members from both sides had almost wiped each other out; the rest were soon handcuffed. Anton was arrested. Lacoste is in the hospital in a coma. The bullet damaged her brain, but there is no way yet to know how badly.

The judge has a final surprise in store for her: The Crown does, indeed, have the right person on trial; Jacqueline did kill Katie. Her plan all along had been to kill Katie and place the blame on Anton, the two people she held responsible for the death of her brother: Katie for breaking his heart and Anton for supplying the drugs.

The Premier suspends Gamache, placing Jean-Guy in charge.

The novel ends with Gamache reading to Lacoste, still in a coma, but who is showing, perhaps, some signs of improving.

FAVORITE QUOTE

“Then he went into the bathroom and had a shower, washing away the dirt and grime, the water salty to the taste. From the sweat. And something else rolling down his face.”

Gamache has been writing down in a journal all of the damage, suffering, and death that his plan has already caused and will probably cause in the future. But having done so, he knows he needs to get on with doing what he thinks is best and that is to ignore some of the laws of the court of justice to serve a higher court, the court of conscience. (A paraphrase of a quote Gamache references from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi). This passage is a sublime description of a deeply moral man forced into an impossible situation and trying to do what is best. Gamache is heartbroken but resolute. And Louise Penny conveys that brilliantly in three sentences of devastating economy.

CONCLUSION

I began this recap with a quote from my correspondence with Louise, so I want to end with one. Below is what I wrote to Louise the moment I finished reading Glass Houses right after it was published. I had sent her an interim report tell her that no one—my husband included—was allowed to talk to me until I finished it. That I was a man obsessed. She wrote back that she was glad I liked it. So, I replied as follows:

“Liked it? Liked it? I didn’t like it. I LOVED it!!!!! But only after I finished, breathless and weeping, did I sit back and marvel at the level of artistry. The way the trial and the crime and the aftermath are woven together is nothing short of astonishing. It’s such a delicate counterpoint and brilliantly done. And the prose. And the way that messages of social justice are woven throughout. Oh, and the skating/ice/mother/rescue — that slayed me. When I got to that I leapt from my chair and had to pace to calm myself down.”

One other thing I need to mention is the Author’s Note, which is among the most beautiful things Louise has ever written. This is where she let her readers know that her beloved husband, Michael, had passed away. “At home. Surrounded, as he was in life, by love.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Most courtroom novels begin with a clear identification of the victim and the accused, but Louise Penny conceals that information for much of the book. What is the impact of this unexpected structure?
  1. Gamache’s relationships with multiple colleagues, from Beauvoir to Barry Zalmanowitz to the judge and others, take surprising turns in the course of the story. How do your views of those relationships change from beginning to end?
  1. The weather is almost a character in many of Louise Penny’s novels, and serves a particularly important function here in establishing time and place. What are some of the most striking scenes in which weather plays a significant role?
  1. With the robed figure dominating the green in Three Pines, “The villagers were pushed to the edge. Edgy.” How did the presence of that figure make you feel? By the end of the novel, how do you view the role of the cobrador del frac, both ancient, as conceived by Louise, and modern?
  1. Gamache, Beauvoir, and the Crown Prosecutor are obviously men, but there are also many powerful women in Glass Houses. Who are these women, and how do their perspectives resemble and/or stand out from those of the men?
  1. Chapter 3 tells us, “The officers in that room were the foundation upon which a whole new Sûreté du Québec was rising. Strong. Transparent. Answerable. Decent.” How does that passage and/or other elements in the story resonate with the title Glass Houses?
  1. What do we learn about Ruth in this book, and how does it influence your view of the profane old poet?
  1. When Armand, Clara, Myrna, and Reine-Marie discuss the Milgram experiment in Chapters 25 and 26, they wonder if they would have administered the final shock. What do you think they – or you – would have done in that situation?
  1. There are many points at which Louise misdirects the reader about characters and plot developments in this story. What were the most shocking twists for you?
  2. How do you see the significance of the lemon meringue pie (here and in earlier novels if you’ve read them)?
  1. Early in the book, Judge Corriveau recalls that Gamache paraphrased deathrow nun Sister Prejean during another trial: “No man is as bad as the wors thing he’s done.” How might that apply to the characters in Glass Houses?
  1. How do you feel about what happens with Isabelle Lacoste?
  1. “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts,” says Gandhi. In contrast, Ruth argues, “It’s generally thought that a conscience is a good thing. But how many terrible things are done in the name of conscience? It’s a great excuse for appalling acts.” Where do you stand on the significance of conscience and its costs?
  1. In her Author’s Note, Louise says, “Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind.” In what ways does Three Pines exist for you, both on the page and in real life?

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions for GLASS HOUSES Most courtroom novels begin with a clear identification of the victim and the accused, but Louise Penny conceals that information for much of the book. What is the impact of this unexpected structure? Gamache’s relationships with multiple colleagues, from Beauvoir to Barry Zalmanowitz to the judge and others, take […]


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