Thursday, February 9, 2017

Still Life

by Louise Penny
St. Martin's     2005
312 pages     Mystery 

My friend Nancy has told me several times that Louise Penny is her favorite mystery writer, but up until last month, I had never read any of her books. Well, now I am hooked for several reasons. First, I had never read a novel based in Quebec. Second, Chief Inspector Gamache, the protagonist in the series, is an extremely thoughtful, charming man, loved by his subordinates and a very thorough detective. The Kirkus reviewer said, "Cerebral, wise and compassionate, Gamache is destined for stardom. Don't miss this stellar debut."

Still Life begins spectacularly. (I have become aware of how important opening lines of novels are.) Penny writes: "Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around." Jane Neal, an elderly retired schoolteacher, was a cherished member of the small community of Three Pines, south of Montreal. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his associates set out to solve her murder, made more difficult because the community is small; everyone knows everyone, and someone is keeping a secret. 

The beauty of Still Life is not the plot, which is a bit scattered. The beauty is in the awesome detective, the spectacular setting, and the genuine character development. Penny writes about Gamache viewing the village: "As he sat quietly and let the village happen around him, he was impressed by how beautiful it was, these old homes facing the green, with their mature perennial gardens and trees. By how natural everything looked, undesigned."

Gamache is a master detective. He knows that "crime is deeply human." He knows that if he is to catch Jane Neal's killer, he has to know the setting and the people. He has to connect with all the human beings involved. 

Mystery buffs will find that there are a lot of loose ends in the novel. This was Penny's first mystery novel, and I am assuming that she improved because she has won many awards for this series. My favorite line in the book comes from the musings of the village book seller, Myrna. "She felt if she could just get a good look at a person's bookcase and their grocery cart, she'd pretty much know who they were." A truth if there ever was one!

It's cold and snowy here; warm and cozy by the fire. Find a good mystery and settle in. Louise Penny has written 12 books in the Inspector Gamache series. Start with Still Life and read through them all. Then it will be spring!

Louise Penny's website.
Here are the books in order:

Still Life, A Fatal Grace/Dead Cold (same book, different title), The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder/The Murder Stone (same book, different title), The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning.

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