Louise Penny has done Canada truly proud with a debut mystery novel that can be characterized as roughly halfway between the cozy mysteries of Agatha Christie and the deeper, psychological much darker mysteries starring the likes of angst-ridden detective Harry Bosch.
Three Pines is a small, primarily English-speaking town in Quebec's Eastern Townships, the beautiful wooded area bordering on the more rugged White Mountains of Vermont. The citizens of Three Pines are shocked when the body of long-time resident, Jane Neal, a local artist whose painting "Fair Lady" has recently been accepted for showing in an important local exhibition, is found dead in the nearby forest. She has been shot through with a hunting arrow and it is unclear whether her death is the result of a hunting accident or something entirely more sinister. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is assigned from Montreal to investigate.
Louise Penny clearly has the chops to concoct a clever mystery and that would have been enough all by itself to commend any lover of the genre to read STILL LIFE. But there is so much more ...
For example, the bilingual and bicultural aspects of life in Quebec and their political fall out are neither explicitly spelled out or preached about to any great extent. They're just there and they bring the setting of this novel very close to home and make it seem exceptionally real. After interrogating one of the English residents of Three Pines, for example, CI Gamache muses:
"It was ... one of the fundamental differences between anglophone and francophone Quebecers; the English believed in individual rights and the French felt they had to protect collective rights. Protect their language and culture."
I had never thought of our differences in quite that light and it seemed a particularly instructive, intuitive and enlightening observation.
Secondly, I've just got to add as well that I positively love it when a mystery or thriller author can effectively and unobtrusively add some bonus education and information or even tidbits of trivia to a story. For example, STILL LIFE used some of the more arcane aspects of archery, bow-hunting, bows, arrows and target shooting as integral parts of the mystery and its solution. In addition, art, its interpretation, the styles of painting and even the uses of certain colours were important in the mystery. When the exhibition panel discussed Jane Neal's "Fair Lady", for example, they commented:
"For whatever reason, Fair Day challenges us. It moves us. To anger, ..., to confusion, to ... joy. ... The truth is, I don't know whether Fair Day is a brilliant example of naive art, or the pathetic scrawling of a superbly untalented, and delusional, old woman. That's the tension."
Interesting, challenging and evocative art analysis without any of the typical pretentious snobbery that we're used to hearing!
Finally, there is some positively brilliant characterization happening. Aside from the studied, interesting development of a calm, introspective and intelligent lead man in CI Gamache, we are treated to some very interesting and colourful side players as well - the acerbic, self-centered and bitter niece, Yolande; the humorous, loving and clearly out of the closet gay couple, Olivier and Gabri; and the apprentice police woman, Yvette Nichol, who clearly has enormous difficulty keeping her intellect under wraps and acknowledging that her superiors have some insight and wisdom to pass on to her.
A wonderful story of a small town in Quebec and a well-crafted mystery as well. Highly recommended with the additional comment that I can't wait to lay my hands on the second novel in the series, A FATAL GRACE.
A debut mystery novel set in rural Quebec that can be characterized as roughly halfway between the cozy mysteries of Agatha Christie and the deeper, psychological much darker mysteries starring the likes of angst-ridden detective Harry Bosch.
The fictional Three Pines is a tiny village south of Montreal, the creation of Canadian author Louise Penny. "Still Life" is the first offering in her Three Pines series, and in it we meet the villagers and learn some of their foibles. Penny's detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, gets the call to Three Pines at the usual inconvenient time, on his way to a family christening on Thanksgiving Sunday (mid-October, in Canada). But there's no convenient … more