There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
Gandhi’s pronouncement echoes around the Palais de Justice in Old Montreal. It comes as a shock to Judge Maureen Corriveau, presiding over her first major case, because it is quoted by Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, Head of the Sûreté du Québec and a man who has devoted his life to upholding the law of the land. She would be even more surprised were she to realise that if need be Gamache is prepared to perjure himself and lie in court despite the fact that as a result the defendant in this murder trial might well go free.
Louise Penny’s latest novel, Glass Houses, spans almost the first year of Gamache’s incumbency as Head of the Sûreté, a year which has seen crime rise dramatically in the province and the police force floundering, apparently helpless to do anything about it. In particular the problem of drug pushing is growing exponentially to the point where it seems to be impossible to combat the cartels involved. However, the murder, which takes place in the latter part of October as the winter storms are beginning to set in and then comes to trial in the sweltering heat of summer, appears to have nothing to do with drugs although everything to do with questions of conscience. An ominous hooded and cloaked figure takes up a vigil on the village green in Three Pines, a figure that is eventually linked to the old Spanish tradition of the Cobrador and who is intended as a prod to the conscience of someone who has committed a dreadful act. But who is the target? When a visitor to the village is found dead, shrouded in the Cobrador’s cloak it is assumed that she is the quarry and has been murdered as an act of vengeance despite the fact that there appears to be nothing in her past to warrant such an action.
Months later, in the heat of a Québec summer, a suspect stands accused in the dock. By this time, however, the reputation of the Sûreté and in particular of Gamache is at an all time low. How can anyone have faith that the correct person has been brought to justice when all around them crimes are going unpunished and drug pushers seem to walk the streets unhindered by the police? Even those who have known the Chief Superintendent the longest (and that includes the faithful reader) are beginning to wonder if this has been one promotion too many and that perhaps he should have continued to enjoy his retirement and left the top job to someone else. We should all know better. For Gamache is being driven by something higher than justice, higher even than conscience, he is being driven by love: love of his wife, his family, his friends, his colleagues and ultimately of the Québécois whom he serves. And, because of that love he is willing to risk everything, even his freedom; to burn his boats as irreversibly as did Cortez, in an attempt to change the course of crime in the province if not forever then at least for the foreseeable future.
If you don’t already know Louise Penny’s world and the characters who people the Sûreté and the village of Three Pines then this is not the place to start, fine novel though it is. The intricacies of the relationships that have grown over many years are too closely interwoven into this story for a first time reader to really understand the faith that is being placed in Gamache. Go back and start at the beginning with Still Life. Enjoy the twelve preceding novels and by the time you come to this you will be in a position to understand why the people who share Gamache’s life, at work and at home, are willing to follow him into a situation as precarious as any he has yet faced.