Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Still Life," by Louise Penny

I have written more than once about my lifelong enjoyment of mysteries, but I have also written of how I sometimes go “off” mysteries for years at a time. I have now gone through a long period, several years, without mysteries (with one or two exceptions) during those years. But a colleague who is an editor who reads very widely, K.S., recently told me about a mystery writer new to me – Louise Penny – and her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books. K. S.’s enthusiastic recommendation, plus the fact that the books are set in a small town in Quebec, Three Pines, convinced me to try at least the first one, “Still Life” (Minotaur, 2005) (K. had recommended reading them in order of publication). I may have mentioned to her that my favorite mysteries are British “village cozies” as they are known, with thoughtful and intriguing inspectors/investigators. Although this mystery is set in Quebec, the “village cozy” model is in evidence. A beloved older woman, a mainstay of the village, is found dead of a wound from a bow and arrow. At first it looks like an accident, but of course (this being a mystery novel) it is not. We get to know all the chief residents of the village, many of whom are quirky and eccentric, but who support each other despite some feuds. We find that their stories are entangled going back many years in their individual and town histories. Gamache is a good watcher and listener, and knows his psychology. He is also very likable. There is a satisfyingly surprising ending that once known makes complete sense. A side story is Inspector Gamache’s having to deal with an odd, ambitious, brash, socially inept assistant. Apparently there are a dozen or so more novels in this series, and I think I may be hooked. I will read at least one more…the next one…and see what happens.


  1. I went through quite a jag of Louise Penny Inspector Gamache stories awhile back, reading all of them she had written. They really are quite good and rather cozy and addictive, and Gamache is a very appealing character. Amazingly, there are enough murders in this tiny off-the-map village to keep the series going! There are some good characters too, that I became rather attached to--hoping with each new book that one wouldn't be knocked off or be revealed as the murderer.... There is an undercurrent of real evil in some of the
    stories, rather scary in fact. This sense sort of picks up steam as the series goes on, as I remember, edging into the possibly supernatural, with more religious tones. This began to put me off a little, or maybe I just needed to get out of that little village for awhile. So although I think she may have a new one, I haven't picked it up yet. (Too busy reading the Donna Leon Commissario Guido Brunetti books, set in Venice. Also a very appealing main character, interesting cultural descriptions. Things are less neatly wrapped up than in the Penny books..a little more morally ambiguous. I think you might like these too.)

    1. Thanks, Mary, for letting me know about your reading of Louise Penny were way ahead of me! I am glad you liked them, and everything you have said here makes me want to read more too, although I am not sure how I will respond to the more supernatural/religious aspect; I may be put off, as you were...we shall see. What you said about becoming attached to characters and hoping -- since there is such a small universe of characters to choose from -- that they would not either kill or be killed resonated with me too, although I have only read the first two novels now. (I read the second one after I had composed the post about the first one, and probably won't write more about the others, but will keep reading!). Re Donna Leon: I have been encouraged by several people now to read her Venice mysteries...and for some reason just have not. Maybe I should now (especially since I finally visited Venice earlier this year!). I remember when my dearly-loved late sister-in-law, who was in the hospital when J. and I were visiting the family in Vienna, got hooked on the Donna Leon books, and was happy when I was able to find and bring her the ones most recently translated into German; she spoke so highly of the books, and they were a good distraction from her medical problems.

  2. What a poignant association you have to the Donna Leon books. How good that you were able to help your sister-in-law in that way. I had not heard about Donna Leon until a few months back when I read that Hillary Clinton enjoyed them, so I was inspired to find them. Leon is quite prolific, so this has been a long jag for me, especially as I am a much slower and less devoted reader than
    you. (Especially now that the internet calls out to me so powerfully: news, Facebook, etc etc. My attention is more scattered thsn ever before. A blog topic perhaps? Or maybe you have addressed it here..) Anyway, enjoy the cozy village!


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