The BUZZ: This book is a treat for the I-don’t-read-mysteries readers among you as well as those mystery lovers looking for a new angle. It’s the first in the Three Pines series (9 books and counting), for which Penny has received numerous prestigious awards.
The GIST: Still Life introduces us to the fictional village of Three Pines, tucked away in the southwest corner of Quebec. It’s a lovely, quiet place, filled with charming people living ordinary lives. When one of the elderly women of the village is found dead, Armand Gamache of the Quebecois Surete (special police force) is called in to investigate. As he and his team dive in, we meet each of the central inhabitants – the resident poet (and town kook), the quirky artist couple, the bookstore owner, the tireless couple who runs the B&B, and others. They seem as real as their tiny town, welcoming and kind or reserved and watchful. With them, we are swept up in the masterful leadership of Chief Inspector Gamache: unflappable, sensitive yet able to remain objective, full of integrity, an optimist who believes that good wins over evil. Fundamentally, Still Life is about relationships, and the murder and its resolution are secondary. Gamache lives by this principle, and the town and the people in it remain important to him even as he returns to Montreal when his work is done.
The WRITING: Nuanced and suspenseful. Louise Penny strikes me as a novelist first, and a mystery writer second. Her ability to conjure real characters and places and dialogue is matched by her perfectly crafted plots. In the Three Pines series, Penny has created a village of the human condition, the highly evolved and the less so, the mensches and the schmucks, the good and the evil, those who are an open book and those who have secrets. The characters are all believable, and this makes the series rise above mystery and the crimes that are solved and sit along side some of our beloved classic authors, like Trollope or Wharton or Austen.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. There’s a funny thing about buying mysteries – you don’t really need to own them because, once you know whodunit, you’re unlikely to read the book again. Still, I purchased all of the Three Pines books and will download the next one when it comes out (August 26). Penny has written keepers, and I’ll let her explain how and why, below.
QUOTE: …from Louise Penny herself…
My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.
If you take only one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: