“Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it’s supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.” —opening paragraph from Still Life by Louise Penny
I’ve been following Louise Penny’s writing progress for many years, but never took the leap to read until now. After a friend insisted I meet Inspector Gamache, loaning me her copy with good cheer, I enjoyed every moment. Still Life is the first Chief Inspector Gamache novel and it was published in 2005 by St. Martin’s Press to immediate acclaim. The new Inspector Gamache novel, How the Light Gets In, the 9th in the series, is newly published. I have a lot of catching up to do—I look forward to my full fall reading stack.
South of Montreal is the setting, a small idyllic-on-the-surface town filled with many suspicious town folk who give off mixed signals. After Jane Neal, an artist on the brink of acceptance, is found dead in the woods, Inspector Gamache is called to the town of Three Pines to figure out if the death was accidental or murder. What sets this book apart is the writing of the characters. Each is distinct, and there are secrets hidden away that Gamache does his best to ferret out. He is used to being an observer, and human nature seldom surprises him, especially how people treat one another. The police team that surrounds him is colorful, and the relationships between the residents of Three Pines is what adds charm and humor to the grim proceedings. Was it a hunter who shot Jane Neal by mistake and ran? That’s the crux of the mystery. Penny adds many layered depths to the story, and red herrings to follow.
“The question hovered in the air, as the earth stopped turning. He had been marching inexorably toward this questions, as the Crofts must have known. He hadn’t wanted to surprise them with it, not out of delicacy for their parental feelings, but because he wanted them to see it coming toward them from a great distance, and to have to wait, and wait. Until their nerves were taut to breaking. Until they both longed for and dreaded this instant.”
There are bad people living in every single town, people who startle with the choices they make, and there are wonderful people too. Louise Penny is able to capture the characters of small-town life, warts and all, cheer and gloom. The psychology of human nature is a central thematic element and is at play in the background when Inspector Gamache is in observational mode trying to piece the rich puzzle together. Is he infallible? According to the past only hinted about in this first novel, the answer is no. His deductive reasoning powers are hidden behind his congenial manner, and many of the people around him don’t appreciate them, or him, at all, and this adds to the tension in the book as well.
Winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys Awards
“Terrific . . . . Like a virtuoso, Penny plays a complex variation on the theme of the clue hidden in plain sight. Filled with unexpected insights, this winning traditional mystery sets a solid foundation for future entries in the series.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Still Life is highly recommended and everyone please read it, even this late in the game. I can’t wait to read the next in the series, titled A Fatal Grace. The Inspector Gamache novels make for good fall into winter reading.
Enjoy your own reading choices and let me know what you think of Still Life and Louise Penny in the comments section below.
Please Subscribe or Follow A Writer’s Life Blog and sign up for my newsletter to the right. For signed copies, please hit the link to the right.
To buy the Green Darner Press paperback or download a free sample of Sandcastle and Other Stories or The Conversationalist for kindle readers or for iPad, PC, Mac, or iPhone with the kindle app, click HERE. While at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, please hit the Like button. It’s a great way to show support for your favorite authors and their books. And please leave a review if the book hits you well.
Subscribe to the e-Magazine In Classic Style for tips on Travel, Dining, and Entertainment.
For Apple/Mac IT, WordPress wrangling and multimedia Publishing/Editing Services, please contact the company I use: Convenient Integration.