“Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby

Blacktop WastelandI was delighted to be invited by the publisher to review one of the most anticipated thrillers of the summer, S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. In a recent essay, Cosby wrote: “In my book I address many issues that I faced growing up in poverty in the South. And while I never resorted to a life of crime to try to grab my piece of the American dream, I know people who did. I did my best to examine those people and deconstruct the choices they made while acknowledging the systemic barriers that give so many of us so few options.”

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is trying his best to live an honest life as a husband, father and small-business owner. His own dad, a legendary getaway driver, left when Beauregard was a teenager, and never came back. His son inherited his souped-up Duster, and his almost preternatural ability to drive fearlessly and with finesse.

As the book begins, Beauregard needs money desperately—business is slow at his car repair shop ever since a bigger, slicker operation opened up in town; his mom’s nursing home is demanding thousands of dollars; his daughter’s about to start college; his son needs braces. “He had a credit card with about $200 left on it. He could use that to pay the light bill. But that would burn up his budget for supplies. He was’t robbing Peter to pay Paul. They had both ganged up on him and were mugging him.”

He decides to do One Last Job in a last-ditch effort to solve his financial problems. What could possibly go wrong?

Beauregard agrees to serve as the wheelman for a couple of criminals who are planning to rob a jewelry store. It seems like an easy payday, but one mistake leads to another, and Beauregard finally has to confront his ultimate nightmare: by trying to provide for his family, he’s put them in jeopardy.

This is primarily a sleek, fast-paced crime novel, but it’s suffused with tragic elements, too; it tells a story of trying to overcome your family history, and never quite being able to come to terms with the ghosts of your past. Beauregard, who served time in juvenile hall, desperately wants his children to have the opportunities he never had. He remembers his old guidance counselor, who “had tried his best to get him to consider going back to school when he got out. Maybe college. Beauregard knew Mr. Skorzeny had meant well. Unlike a lot of the staff at Jefferson Davis Reformatory, he didn’t view boys like him as lost causes. What Mr. Skorzeny didn’t understand, what he couldn’t understand, was that boys like Beauregard didn’t have the luxury of options. No father. A mother who was one flat tire and a bad day away from a nervous breakdown, and grandparents who had lived and died in a constant state of abject poverty. For boys like Beauregard, college was the stuff of dreams. Mr. Skorzeny might as well have told him to go to Mars.”

Beauregard makes some bad decisions and does things many people would find unforgivable, but by the end of the book, my heart broke for him nevertheless. This is a bravura performance from a new author to watch.

“Head Over Heels” by Hannah Orenstein and “Party of Two” by Jasmine Guillory

Head Over HeelsHead Over Heels takes place in an alternate universe. No, it’s not science fiction; it’s a world in which COVID-19 never happened, and the Tokyo Olympics went on as planned. I’m sure that when the publisher was drawing up its marketing plan, June 2020 seemed like it would be the perfect time to capitalize on Olympic fever; now, it’s like a relic of a lost world.

That said, I still really enjoyed the book, though it definitely made me spare a thought for all of the young gymnasts who have spent their whole lives working toward the goal of making it to the Olympics.

Our heroine, Avery Adams, is a former elite gymnast who seemed like a shoo-in to make it onto the American team for the 2012 London games. An injury derailed her plans, and she’s spent seven years trying to figure out what to do next. After her pro football star boyfriend dumps her—he’s tired of her aimlessness and lack of ambition—she is forced to move back in with her parents.

Avery gets a job coaching 16-year-old Olympic hopeful Hallie Conway, a gifted gymnast who just needs to add some artistic flair to her floor routine. Hallie’s main coach is a former Olympian named Ryan, whom Hallie had a crush on back in the day. Romantic sparks fly, but they don’t want anything to distract them from their goal: getting Hallie a slot on the U.S. team.

Head Over Heels doesn’t sugarcoat the downsides of gymnastics at this elite level; there’s a scandal involving a doctor who sexually assaults his young charges (shades of Larry Nassar), and Avery frequently flashes back to the emotionally abusive training she went through, which involved being shamed for her weight and her appearance. Avery is determined to protect Hallie from going through what she endured.

Still, the book eloquently describes the joys of the sport as well: “I’m reminded of one of the many things I loved about gymnastics: if you work hard, you can become a superhuman version of yourself, at least for a time,” muses Avery. “If I were in prime shape, I could spiral like a ballerina, contort myself like a circus performer, catapult myself like a soldier, and defy gravity like a goddess.”

Party of TwoJasmine Guillory’s Party of Two is also set in another dimension… one in which California has a male senator! (Seriously, I’ve lived here for 20 years, and that’s never happened. But sometimes you have to suspend disbelief when you read fiction.) This is the fifth novel in what I’m calling the Jasmine Guillory Literary Universe, since all of the books draw from a large pool of friends and relatives. Olivia Monroe, this novel’s main character, is the sister of The Wedding Date’s Alexa Monroe.

Olivia has just moved from New York to Los Angeles to start a law firm with her friend Ellie. Staying in a hotel while waiting for her house to be move-in ready, Olivia starts chatting with a handsome stranger at the lobby bar. She’s gobsmacked when she turns on the local news after getting back to her room and realizes that she was having a flirty conversation with California’s junior Senator, Max Powell.

Naturally, they run into each other again, and despite Olivia’s insistence that she has to be 100% focused on her career, she and Max begin dating… in secret, since he’s considered one of the most eligible bachelors on Capitol Hill, and while Olivia needs to bring new clients to her firm, she doesn’t want to trade on the fact that she’s getting increasingly cozy with a powerful legislator.

Max and Olivia have very different temperaments—Max is extroverted and spontaneous, while cautious Olivia doesn’t like to make a move without planning every last detail in advance. As a single woman in her 30s, she’s used to making her own way in the world, and the idea of being known primarily as a politician’s wife does not appeal to her. “Would she have to learn how to put a fake smile on her face all day whenever she was in public so she could look pleasant and harmless? Would she be some sort of Max appendage, where people wouldn’t see her as an individual but only as ‘the senator’s wife’? Would the world expect her to nod and smile next to him no matter what he said or did?”

It’s a given that the couple in a Jasmine Guillory book will wind up together in the end, but reaching that destination always makes for an incredibly satisfying journey. Since literary journeys are the only trips I’m taking this year, thank goodness for novels like this one, which provide a few happy and relaxing hours of reading pleasure.

“The Wives” by Tarryn Fisher

The WivesThe Wives is a psychological thriller with a unique twist: the protagonist is in a plural marriage, so she shares her husband with two other women. This isn’t a “Sister Wives” situation, though; the first-person narrator of this novel lives in Seattle, while the other two are in Portland. Seth, the husband, works in both cities. He keeps all three separate, spending different days of the week with them. Our narrator only knows his other wives as Monday and Tuesday; she is Thursday.

Inevitably, Thursday’s curiosity about Monday and Tuesday turns into an obsession, and when she finds a piece of paper in Seth’s pocket with Monday’s real name on it—Hannah—she decides to snoop. She drives down to Portland and manages to befriend Hannah, not letting on that they have a lot in common. When she notices bruising on Hannah’s arm, she begins to fear that Seth has a violent streak.

This book is completely bonkers, though an attempt has clearly been made to make everything seem vaguely plausible, like having Seth be the scion of a fundamentalist Mormon sect, and Thursday earnestly stating that she tried dating other men after learning about Seth’s polygamous ways; they simply couldn’t measure up. (“I really, really liked him. There was something about him—a charisma, maybe, or a perceptiveness.”) I wasn’t surprised when it all got a little too nutso toward the end, but by that point, it was an hour past my bedtime and I was still turning the pages, eager to learn the secrets Seth and his wives were hiding.

“The Talented Mr. Varg” by Alexander McCall Smith and “Three Hours in Paris” by Cara Black

The Talented Mr. VargIt’s possible that I just picked an inopportune time to read the second book in the Detective Varg series; I enjoyed the first one, but hoo boy, reading The Talented Mr. Varg was about as much fun as the time I got lost in a nondescript Stockholm suburb trying to find IKEA (true story).

A send-up of brutal Swedish noir, the Varg novels chronicle the Department of Sensitive Crimes, a division of the Malmö police which deals with the sort of minor mysteries Mma Ramotswe investigates at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. That’s obviously not a problem for me, as I’ve read all 20 of those books, but The Talented Mr. Varg spends too little time solving puzzles in favor of meandering digressions about Swedish-Russian relations, bridge construction, dog behavior, prostate problems, tattoos, electric razors…

“Those razors. I have one. It’s waterproof, you know. Well, you can’t put the whole thing in the water—you wouldn’t put the body bit—but you can certainly put the heads under the tap. They have a tap symbol on them, you see, and that’s how you tell whether your electric razor is waterproof or not.” This is said by a colleague of Varg’s known for “his strange world of rambling association,” but all too often, the whole book feels like a series of rambling associations.

Three Hours in ParisThe polar opposite of Varg is Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris, which provides pulse-pounding excitement from first page to last. Here I must insert a disclaimer stating that Cara is a friend of mine, someone I would regularly meet up with for espresso in the Before Times, but I’m confident I would have enjoyed this book even if I hadn’t known her to be a supremely kind, generous and thoughtful person.

In the book’s first 25 pages, American sniper Kate Rees loses her naval officer husband and baby daughter in a Luftwaffe attack (she met her husband, a Welshman, while she was studying in Paris, and moved with him to the Orkney Islands). Vowing revenge on the Germans, Kate’s incredible skill as a markswoman, thanks to a youth spent learning to hunt on a ranch in rural Oregon, cause her to be recruited by British intelligence. She is sent to Paris to assassinate Hitler. She fails, obviously—this book doesn’t take place in an alternate timeline where Hitler is bumped off in 1940—but there are still 325 pages to go, and there are thrills, spills and close calls aplenty. Fans of spy novels, World War II history, Paris, or strong and resourceful female heroines will all find something to like in this book.

“Broken Places” by Tracy Clark

Broken PlacesTracy Clark’s second Cass Raines novel, Borrowed Time, won the Sue Grafton Memorial Award at the Edgars this year. Grafton, of course, was one of my all-time favorite authors, and her namesake award was established to honor “the best novel in a series featuring a female protagonist.” (Sara Paretsky’s Shell Game took home the inaugural prize in 2019.) I decided to start with the first book in the series, Broken Places, in order to get all of Cass’s backstory.

It’s interesting that Borrowed Time followed Paretsky’s win, since Cass reminded me a quite a bit of V.I. Warshawski. They’re both Chicago private eyes, they both lost their moms at an early age, neither shies away from physical confrontation—like V.I., Cass gets injured in the course of her investigation, but perseveres through the pain. However, Cass is an ex-cop, which has both advantages and disadvantages. She still has friends on the force, like her sympathetic ex-partner Ben Mickerson. But then there’s James Farraday, from a family of powerful cops (“he’d risen through the ranks on the shoulders of giants”) and is a man who “wanted to be the hero and score bones with his family… With Farraday, it was force first, always.”

When Farraday rushes gracelessly into a situation Cass was working hard to defuse, a young man is shot dead, and Cass is gravely injured. She winds up quitting the force to go private. Her years on the Chicago PD left their mark on her; she often has to work hard to convince the people she needs to talk to that she’s no longer a police officer. “Cops and robbers everywhere had a good nose for ferreting out the other. I could give the star back and walk away from the roll call, but even after two years I couldn’t get the cop out of my head… Cop was in the walk, in the talk, in the way I saw the world.”

After her mom died when Cass was only 12, her father dropped the girl off at her grandparents’ home and left town for good. She found a father figure in the neighborhood priest, whom she called Pop. When Pop is brutally murdered, along with a young man with gang tattoos, her nemesis Farraday is put in charge of the case, and concludes that the priest must have caught the kid in the act of robbing the church, leading to a struggle over the kid’s gun: “They wrestle for the gun, the kid gets shot,” he explains. “Priest then, full of remorse, can’t take the guilt and kills himself. Some kind of penance thing. Evidence should check out pretty neatly.”

Unsurprisingly, Cass doesn’t agree, and she begins investigating the crime herself, which inevitably leads to clashes with the cops. It was an interesting week to be reading this book, with protests against the police constantly in the news; as a Black woman, Cass definitely has her issues with specific cops like Farraday, but on the whole, she doesn’t hesitate to call on the police when she feels it’s necessary to do so, and most of her former colleagues are depicted in a positive light (although Ben fruitlessly—and reasonably!—keeps trying to convince her not to continue endangering her own life while investigating the murders). Based on this book, I feel like Cass’s relationship with the Chicago PD will not be purely adversarial, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Farraday turns up again to torment her in future novels.

I enjoyed Broken Places, even though it did rely on a couple of well-worn crime novel tropes, including the ever-popular “talking killer” scene, which gives the protagonist ample time to figure out a way to outwit a monologuing murderer. But the secondary characters, including Cass’s old neighborhood pals Whip and Barb—an ex-con and a nun, respectively—are well-drawn, and Clark excels at writing propulsive action sequences. This is a polished and entertaining debut.

“The Jetsetters” by Amanda Eyre Ward

The JetsettersDuring this staycation summer, I found it oddly appealing to pick up a book about people taking a European cruise on a gigantic ocean liner. Imagine a world where such things were possible!

Widowed Charlotte is in her early 70s, and her best friend has just died. Feeling lonely and aimless, she longs to spend time with all three of her children. Only one of the trio, Regan, lives nearby, and their relationship is pretty dicey, since Charlotte keeps bugging her to lose weight. Cord lives in New York with his fiancé, but he has yet to come out to his devoutly Catholic mom. And Lee moved across the country to Hollywood years before and never looked back, though her dreams of stardom never panned out the way she’d hoped.

Charlotte enters an essay contest with a luxury cruise on the Splendido Marveloso as the first prize. When she wins, she summons all of her children, who reluctantly agree to join her. Regan’s husband Matt, an abusive jerk, insists on coming along; of course, no one else in the family knows that their relationship is in trouble, since the Perkins clan is dysfunctional in the extreme. Over the course of the novel, the reader learns why they all feel the need to keep their true selves hidden from their family members. On the ship, the first time they’ve all been together in years, those long-buried secrets finally start coming to the surface.

Along the way, we get glimpses of the ports they visit, including Malta, Athens and Marseilles, and plenty of details of shipboard life, from the buffets to the disco to the enforced merriment (a troupe called the Fun Times Dance Squad boogies through the dining room, imploring passengers to do the Dinner Napkin Twirl). Life aboard the Splendido Marveloso, and only being allotted a few scant hours to visit each historic port of call, sounds like pure misery to me, which might have increased my enjoyment of this book; if this had been my dream vacation, I might have been too envious to focus on the Perkins family’s travails. But I would much rather have read The Jetsetters in my suburban backyard than in a deck chair aboard the Splendido Marveloso.

I zoomed through this book, even though all of the characters are pretty awful people (with good reason to be that way, admittedly). Charlotte’s own childhood was so miserable that she seemed destined to screw up her own family, but The Jetsetters does give some hope that perhaps it’s never too late to change and to overcome a painful legacy of secrets and shame.

“Big Summer” by Jennifer Weiner

Big SummerIn an attempt to give myself a slight change of scenery, I mail-ordered an Adirondack chair and put it in my back yard. Now I can sit comfortably amidst my tomato plants while I drink tea and read. Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer seemed like an appropriate book to inaugurate my outdoor space; after last year’s big historical novel Mrs. Everything, Weiner promised her fans that her next book would be lighter, featuring “a girl who gets a happy ending.”

That last part was really important, since I was definitely in the mood to read something where everything turns out just fine. Ordinarily, perhaps that would constitute a spoiler, but Weiner obviously knows what people are hungry for right now, so it was smart of her to make that pledge part of her (virtual) promo tour.

Big Summer is about an Instagram influencer named Daphne Berg, who also works as a Manhattan nanny when she’s not posting pics online of herself wearing trendy clothes (and making sure to hashtag the companies who supplied her with the outfits). As a plus-sized woman, Daphne has finally learned to accept her body, and she has become something of a role model for younger women. It’s been a long road, though; several years back, a humiliating incident caused a rift between Daphne and her best friend, slim and wealthy Drue Cavanaugh, who turned out to be something less than a loyal pal.

Daphne hasn’t seen Drue in years when her frenemy returns, begging Daphne to forgive her and serve as a member of her wedding party. The lavish, well-publicized nuptials—Drue is marrying a reality TV star—will be taking place on Cape Cod. Since Daphne has just scored a new gig as the face of a new clothing line, she figures that if nothing else, the Cape will serve as a scenic backdrop for some primo Instagram content. The weekend turns out to be extremely memorable in ways Daphne couldn’t have imagined, as the story takes a pretty big turn halfway through.

This is a fun book which goes down as easily as a Popsicle on a hot day, though it’s not completely frivolous; there are some poignant musings about social media and the way people with seemingly perfect online lives may not be quite so happy offline.

The only thing that bugged me about this book was that Daphne has both a roommate and a dog named Bingo, and when she goes to Cape Cod, it’s mentioned that her roommate will also be out of town. But who takes care of the dog in their absence? Bingo is in Daphne’s apartment when she returns; was there a dogsitter? I even skimmed back through the first part of the book to see if I had missed something. It might sound silly, but as I alluded to in my review of The Stranger Diaries a couple of weeks ago, I sometimes find myself oddly invested in the fates of animal characters in the books I read.

“The Deeds of the Disturber” by Elizabeth Peters

Deeds of the DisturberLong ago, when I was a young mystery reader, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series was one of my favorites. For the uninitiated, the late Barbara Mertz was a brilliant academic (she had a PhD in Egyptology) who turned to writing historical mysteries set in Egypt under a pen name. Intrepid Amelia and her husband, Emerson, made archaeological discoveries and solved crimes, sometimes rubbing elbows with real-life figures along the way.

I kept up with the series until sometime in the early 2000s, when I sort of lost track. My book group (which, as I’ve mentioned, is now meeting online) read the fifth novel in the series, The Deeds of the Disturber, this week. I own a first edition hardcover, signed by the author, but in one of those dismaying “Hey, you’re OLD now” reminders, the print was too small for me to comfortably read; I wound up downloading it onto my Kindle, where I can customize the font size to accommodate my aging eyes.

Deeds is the only book in the series that takes place in Amelia’s native England (the rest are set in Egypt). She, her husband and their annoyingly precocious son, Ramses, return home for the summer, where they get involved in investigating the murder of a nightwatchman at the British Museum, attributed to a mummy’s curse. At a lecture by E.A. Wallis Budge (one of those real-life people I mentioned above), a man dressed in robes and a mask interrupts the Egyptologist’s talk, uttering threats before mysteriously disappearing. More deaths follow, and Amelia fears her husband is the killer’s next target.

Reading this book was sort of like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a really long time, and discovering we no longer have much in common. The things I remembered about the series—hyperverbal Ramses, hot-headed Emerson, the eye-rollingly frequent references to Amelia and her spouse’s extremely active love life—are there in force; just like last week’s The Stranger Diaries, it took me a full week to get through this book. Unlike, say, How the Light Gets In, I found it pretty easy to put down, and I was never super-eager to pick it back up. I’m more distracted these days and unless something really hooks me, it’s often a struggle to finish what I’m reading. I have a couple more book club selections to read, but then I have a few titles on the TBR pile that I’m super-eager to get to, like Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer and Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris. We’ll see if anything is able to distract my anxious brain.

“The Stranger Diaries” by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger DiariesEvery year, I try to read the Edgar nominees for Best Novel. Of the 2020 field, the only one I’d already read was Michael Robotham’s Good Girl, Bad Girl, which I really enjoyed. I’m a big fan of Peter Heller’s spellbinding 2017 novel Celine, and I have a copy of his nominated book The River on my TBR pile. Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland is one I know nothing about, and I’ve heard good things about Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee.

That leaves Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries, which I checked out of the library back in January immediately after the nominations were announced; it had been described as a “brilliant twist on Gothic suspense,” which sounded right up my alley. I only made it a few pages in, however, before I came upon a passage which made me put the book down. A teacher is lecturing about the utility of animal characters in suspense fiction, and she tells her students:

“Animals are expendable. Authors often kill them to create tension. It’s not a significant as killing a human but it can be surprisingly upsetting.”

Since a canine character had already been introduced, I wondered if this was a signal to the reader that the dog would be bumped off in the course of the story. I’m not one of those “never kill a fictional animal” absolutists, but in this case, I had literally just adopted a new dog a couple of days beforehand, and the idea of reading about an animal in jeopardy held even less appeal than usual.

When the book won the best-novel award, I figured I should give it another try, though I sincerely hoped the dog would make it through the book alive. Spoiler alert: he does, though not without a few adventures along the way. Whew!

The Stranger Diaries has a trio of narrators: Clare, an English teacher at Talgarth High School; her teenage daughter, Georgia, who attends Talgarth; and Harbinder Kaur, the detective investigating the murder of Ella Elphick, Clare’s close friend and colleague. Ella is found dead in her kitchen, stabbed to death. A note left by her body reads “Hell is empty,” a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ella had been rumored to be having an affair with another teacher. Could someone at the school have killed her?

The words “Hell is empty” also appear in “The Stranger,” a famous ghost story by 19th-century writer R.M. Holland, whose home is now part of the Talgarth campus. When another teacher is murdered, it becomes apparent that the methods were borrowed from Holland’s tale. Clare, who is working on a biography of Holland, writes regularly in a diary, and when cryptic notes written by another hand start showing up in those private pages, she worries that she might be the next victim.

This is a very clever book, and I must admit that the killer’s identity was a total surprise to me (though it made perfect sense in retrospect). For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I found it a little bit difficult to get into, especially compared to last week’s book, Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In, which I just breezed through. In the end, I admired The Stranger Diaries more than I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not surprised that a jury of Griffiths’ peers elected to give her the top prize; the novel is supremely well-plotted and both plays with and faithfully follows genre tropes.

“How the Light Gets In” by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets InLouise Penny is one of those rare authors who inspires fanatical devotion. For many years, as Penny racked up awards and accolades, I read her books thinking, “Well, this is fine,” but I was never really bowled over, since the author relied on a couple of my least-favorite tropes. The setting of most of her novels, the idyllic Quebec town of Three Pines, gave the series a whiff of Cabot Cove syndrome (i.e. a village with a shockingly high murder rate). And her protagonist, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, is a deeply ethical man who has been battling with his boss, Chief Superintendent Francoeur, a villain who seemed to be the embodiment of mustache-twirling evil.

The last Penny book I read was 2012’s The Beautiful Mystery, which featured a bunch of Gamache/Francoeur drama. I owned a copy of the next novel in the series, How the Light Gets In, but I never got around to reading it until this past week—it was selected by my book group, which is now meeting over Zoom. At the beginning, we learn that “the most successful homicide department in the nation had been gutted, replaced with lazy, insolent, incompetent thugs… The rest of the old guard had been transferred out, either by request or on the orders of Chief Superintendent Francoeur.”

The continuation of this good cop/evil cop dynamic didn’t exactly hook me, but I kept going, and gradually I felt something shift in me, and I disappeared into the world of this book so completely that I barely poked my head up out of its covers until I had turned the last page. Whatever cynicism I approached the book with melted away, and I completely escaped into the world of Three Pines in a way I never have before. One of the residents, Myrna, approaches Gamache when a friend of hers who had been planning to visit never arrives. Myrna reveals that the missing woman, Constance, was the last surviving Ouellet quintuplet (a fictionalized version of the Dionne sisters); Gamache heads to Constance’s home in Montréal, and finds that she has been murdered.

The reclusive Constance had tried for decades to escape her early notoriety and live a simple life, but Gamache wonders if she died with a secret—one that led to her murder. As he investigates Constance’s death, Gamache learns that Francoeur is involved in a truly massive conspiracy to do something super evil. Naturally, everything climaxes in a titanic showdown in Three Pines.

“Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs,” writes Penny about two-thirds of the way through the book. “He believed that light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits. But… Gamache wondered if he could have been wrong all this time. Maybe the darkness sometimes won. Maybe evil had no limits.”

Oh, how I wanted to believe in the power of kindness, and that evil will be vanquished—maybe that is unrealistic in the world as it is right now, but I hoped desperately that in this book, at least, light would prevail over darkness, and Gamache would find a way to succeed over the grasping, greedy, power-hungry people who weren’t just trying to bring their evil plans to fruition, but wanted to break his spirit in the process. No spoilers here, obviously, but by the time I reached the end, I felt satisfied that How the Light Gets In was the exact book that I needed to read at this time.