Louise Penny Builds A Magical Ensemble In 'The Long Way Home'
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. For those of you treasuring these last days of August, we have good news. Louise Penny has a new book out - a new Chief Inspector Gamache novel. It's the 10th, actually. Her book is called "The Long Way Home" which ought to help us all spin the summer reading thing out for a few extra days and nights.
Penny's novels are thrillers sometimes. Bad things happen to good people fairly often. But she's famous for finding a way to resolve her stories which leaves us with a sense that somehow the right will eventually prevail. If not in this book, maybe in her next bestseller. Louise Penny joins us from the CBC in Montreal. Welcome.
LOUISE PENNY: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Before we start, could you just introduce us to Clara and Inspector Gamache, and give us a hint of the mystery they have to solve?
PENNY: Well, all my books are set in Quebec, where I live, in a small town just north of the Vermont border and south of Montreal in the fictional village called Three Pines. And Three Pines is really a kind of cauldron of creativity in one way or another.
And Armand Gamache is the former chief inspector of homicide for the Surete du Quebec which is the provincial police force in Quebec. He would never be mistaken for an action man. He is more of a - he might be mistaken for a college professor. He's that sort.
And Clara comes to him because her husband hasn't returned as he was supposed to. And there's been no word from him. So Clara comes to Armand Gamache and asks for his help in finding him. And that provokes this quest.
WERTHEIMER: Now you have moved the family Gamache to an enchanted spot - the little village Three Pines. What is this place? And what is it about this little cluster of houses - most of which seem to be occupied by friends we've already met in earlier books?
PENNY: That's right. They are the ongoing series characters. There's Gabri and Olivier who run the B and B. There's Myrna Landers who runs - she's a retired psychologist from Montréal. She runs the used bookstore.
To be honest with you, when I was writing this book, I didn't ever think it would be published. And I knew it would take years, probably, to write the first book of the series - not this one but the first book.
So I created a cast of characters I would choose as friends because I knew I would have to be in their company at least for a couple of years while I wrote the first book. This was just after 9/11. And having been a journalist for a long time, I was getting the sense that the world was a very cruel, very dangerous place. And I didn't like that feeling 'cause in my heart I thought that probably wasn't true. It was a warped version of what the world was really like.
And so I created this village. This village I would choose to live in where real life happens - bad things happen to all of the people. But there is a sense of community, of belonging. The books were, in many ways, inspired by a line from Auden in his elegy to Melville where he talks about goodness existed. That was the new knowledge. His terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it. So the books are about terror, but they're really about goodness and the relationship these characters have with each other.
WERTHEIMER: The characters keep sort of batting around words like magic and magical talking about the place - as if they don't quite believe in this place.
PENNY: Yes. There is an intentional sense of magical realism about it. I really love the South American writers who write with that sense of magical realism. So I tried to instill some of that in this book - that Three Pines is a village that isn't on any maps. There is a sense that it's only ever found by people lost. No one goes there on purpose. They sort of bumble into it. But the people who do find it were meant to find it.
WERTHEIMER: Well, now in any case, your characters who got lost and got to this place - your characters do go on a journey in search of love or meaning or maybe a heart. But despite having the top cop along, this mystery is considered - and I guess solved - by a committee, by the neighbors.
PENNY: Yes. They leave Three Pines. It's Clara goes because it's her husband. Gamache goes. His second-in - former second-in-command goes. And Myrna, the bookstore owner, a friend of Clara's - they, all four of them, go.
And I guess that's what was the template for it was a Homer's "The Odyssey." That was very much in the forefront of my mind. I wanted there to be also very strong female characters. And Clara is that and Myrna is that as well. So they sort of counterbalance Armand Gamache. And Clara takes the lead. And she makes it clear that she literally is in the driver's seat.
WERTHEIMER: You know, I think there must be a lot of built-in difficulties in creating an ensemble as you have. And then allowing all of them to age. Do you have any fears that at some point you're going to be suddenly unfashionable or that, worse, your audience will also age right out of reading thrillers or maybe age out of reading anything at all?
PENNY: Well, I'll probably die before they all do. So no, it's (Laughter). I'm decaying quickly. You know, I don't. I honestly - I live in the middle-of-nowhere Quebec by choice. I love where I live, and these books are, in many ways, great big thank you letters to a place that made me feel at home when I needed it.
I don't need to write. I write because I genuinely like these characters, and I like their company. And if the day comes - and it will, one day - when I stop writing either by my choice or someone else's, I swear to God, Linda, I can look back on this and say I so far overshot any of my expectations when I was an 8-year-old dreaming of this that I'll be happy.
WERTHEIMER: Louise Penny - her newest book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series is called "The Long Way Home." Thank you very much for talking to us today.
PENNY: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.