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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Louise Penny: Still Life and A Fatal Grace

A few months ago, I received an ARC in the mail of Louise Penny's The Long Way Home. I had read (and thoroughly enjoyed) several of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache novels:  A Rule Against Murder, The Brutal Telling, and Bury Your Dead-- but they are numbers 4, 5, and 6 of the 11 Chief Inspector Gamache novels;  I was missing quite a few in the series and all of the first three novels.

So...I started some back-up reading.

The first in the series is Still Life, which introduces most of the characters in the series.  

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Canadian Penny's terrific first novel, which was the runner-up for the CWA's Debut Dagger Award in 2004, introduces Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. When the body of Jane Neal, a middle-aged artist, is found near a woodland trail used by deer hunters outside the village of Three Pines, it appears she's the victim of a hunting accident. Summoned to the scene, Gamache, an appealingly competent senior homicide investigator, soon determines that the woman was most likely murdered. Like a virtuoso, Penny plays a complex variation on the theme of the clue hidden in plain sight. She deftly uses the bilingual, bicultural aspect of Quebecois life as well as arcane aspects of archery and art to deepen her narrative. Memorable characters include Jane; Jane's shallow niece, Yolande; and a delightful gay couple, Olivier and Gabri. Filled with unexpected insights, this winning traditional mystery sets a solid foundation for future entries in the series.(July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
Both the setting and the characters in this series help set it apart from other mystery/police procedurals.  Penny's characters are exceptionally well-developed--from Chief Inspector Gamache and his team to the fascinating and quirky inhabitants of Three Pines.  In the books I'd previously read, Ruth Zardo (the cantankerous, weird, and wonderful old poet) has been my favorite character, so it was interesting to see her in her embryonic form in Still Life, the first in the series. 
The book description above reveals some of the plot, so I won't go into it.  I'm curious about how much Louise Penny had in mind for her characters when she wrote this first book.  It seems that either she had an idea about the trajectories of their lives or did such a good job of creating fascinating characters that it was impossible not to continue developing and expanding them.  Certainly, she had a great deal in mind for Gamache, and there is a theme begun and later revealed, piece by piece, about Gamache's role in the Surete; but I can't help but wonder if she already had plans for the other inhabitants in Three Pines that would carry throughout eleven books.
From Booklist
Quebec Surete Inspector Armand Gamache, who made his debut in Still Life (2006), returns in this enjoyable follow-up. An almost universally disliked, even hated, woman is murdered. Naturally, the pool of potential murderers is deep, ranging from the victim's lover to her friends (well, acquaintances) to various others in the small Canadian community of Three Pines. Gamache, a smart and likable investigator--think Columbo with an accent, or perhaps a modern-day Poirot--systematically wades his way through the pool, coming upon a few surprises along the way. Penny is a careful writer, taking time to establish character and scene, playing around with a large cast, distracting us so we won't see the final twists coming until they're upon us. This is a fine mystery in the classic Agatha Christie style, and it is sure to leave mainstream fans wanting more. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Penny continues to develop her characters and to add a few new ones.  Three Pines is a character in itself; a village that doesn't appear on any map and that most people find almost by accident.  Yep--a kind of Brigadoon located near the Canadian border.  The village has a Currier & Ives appearance and a magical aura, but murder does occur there.  Once again Inspector Gamache is called in to solve the murder--which is the most prominent plot line--but we are also able to gain more information about the Surete corruption.  

Of course, I love the series for the writing and the characters, but I also love that Penny mentions and alludes to some of my favorite poets:  John Donne, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, even Leigh Hunt.  I have to admit that the fictional Ruth Zardo has been added to my pantheon of poets.

I'll be posting more about this series  soon.  Below are the titles in order.
  1. Still Live   read this month, reviewed in this post
  2. A Fatal Grace (Dead Cold)  read this month, reviewed in this post
  3. The Cruelest Month  read this month, not yet reviewed
  4. A Rule Against Murder  read & reviewed 2009
  5. The Brutal Telling  read & reviewed 2010
  6. Bury Your Dead  read & reviewed 2010
  7. The Hangman  read this month (novella), not yet reviewed
  8. A Trick of the Light
  9. The Beautiful Mystery
  10. How the Light Gets In  read this month, not yet reviewed
  11. The Long Way Home  read this month, not yet reviewed
Only the the latest, The Long Way Home is an ARC.  The others have been library books or Kindle purchases.  I've read most of them out of order, and each book does stand alone, but getting the character development and the Arnot case/Surete corruption would be better served by reading them in order.  I still have two books to pick up (#8, #9), but I'm hesitant to dive right into them because then I will be all caught up with no Three Pines and Inspector Gamache to read.  I will hoard them for a while before giving in.

I highly recommend this series!  Of course, I know many of you love the series as well and are as grateful as I am that Louise Penny created the village of Three Pines.


So nice to have a working computer again!


  1. You're on a roll! I have only read one book in the series, A Trick of the Light, which I really liked. I have the first book in the series and mean to go back and read it at some point.

  2. I've heard so much good things about Louise Penny's books but have not even read any of them! Looks like I've a lot to catch up on if I decide to read it.

  3. I've been meaning to go back to the beginning of this series for a couple of years ever since I jumped into it somewhere around the middle. Of course, it's not the only series I promised myself I would do some back-reading usual good intentions turn to dust.

  4. Wendy - I was on a roll with these books this month! I am glad that I went back and picked up the first few books. I think you will like the series; it gets better and better.

    Melody - The characters are so interesting. You get hooked before you realize it. :)

    Sam - I've enjoyed going back to the beginning, but even out of order, I've been pleased with each one. Well, except for the novella--it was too short!