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308 of 327 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Ultimately it's us and our choices."
"Still Life," by Louise Penny, takes place in Three Pines, a small rural village south of Montreal. This placid and beautiful hamlet is shaken to its core when a beloved and gentle seventy-six year old woman named Jane Neal is shot through the heart with an arrow. Was Neal's death the result of a hunting accident or was it murder? If it was an accident, why has no one...
Published on July 23, 2006 by E. Bukowsky

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114 of 131 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some flaws in first novel in a series
Although this is by no means a bad book, I didn't like it nearly as much as the other reviewers. To me, the writing was sometimes disjointed and did not flow smoothly, in particular in the conversation between characters and sometimes when jumping between the present and the past. For a first novel about a village and the police officers called there to investigate a...
Published on October 13, 2009 by Stock24


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308 of 327 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Ultimately it's us and our choices.", July 23, 2006
"Still Life," by Louise Penny, takes place in Three Pines, a small rural village south of Montreal. This placid and beautiful hamlet is shaken to its core when a beloved and gentle seventy-six year old woman named Jane Neal is shot through the heart with an arrow. Was Neal's death the result of a hunting accident or was it murder? If it was an accident, why has no one come forward? If Jane was deliberately slain, who could have wanted her dead? One suspect is Jane's estranged niece, Yolande Fontaine, a cold, unfeeling, and greedy woman who is desperate to get her hands on her aunt's property. In addition, Yolande's husband is an obnoxious boor with a criminal record, and their son is a known delinquent.

In charge of the investigation is Chief Inspector of Homicide, Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. Although he is in his mid-fifties, "violent death still surprised him." Gamache is a man of integrity with keen powers of observation, and he is an excellent listener with an uncanny ability to make people reveal their innermost thoughts. Assisting Gamache is Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, who has been Gamache's second-in-command for over ten years. Agent Yvette Nichol, an arrogant and impulsive young woman, is new to the team, and she quickly annoys her superiors with her irritating and smug attitude.

The varied cast of townspeople includes Clara and Peter Morrow, who are local artists; Clara, who was extremely close to Jane, is devastated by the old woman's death. Olivier and Gabri are gay partners who run a bistro and a bed and breakfast, and early in the book, they are victims of a vicious assault by three boys who mock the pair's sexual orientation. Myrna Landers is a former psychologist who has deep insight into the human condition. Ben Hadley has been Peter Morrow's close friend for years; Ben's mother, Timmer, died a month earlier after a lengthy battle with cancer. Ruth Zardo is a brusque curmudgeon who is not terribly popular, since she consistently says whatever is on her mind. Phillipe Croft, a troubled and surly fifteen-year-old boy is a suspect, as well, since he knows how to shoot with a bow an arrow and had a recent altercation with Jane.

Louise Penny has written a dryly humorous, thoughtful, and engrossing study of a network of close-knit friends and relatives who celebrate their successes and mourn their losses together. Who among them is harboring evil intentions? This book is reminiscent of Christie's Miss Marple mysteries, in that a snake suddenly rears its head in an apparently benign Garden of Eden. Until the snake is found and destroyed, anyone could be the next victim. The author's delineation of the individual personalities is remarkable. The plot is nicely constructed, with enough red herrings to keep the reader off balance. Penny is a gifted descriptive writer and the dialogue is lively and fast-paced. Gamache, far from being superhuman, makes mistakes but tries to learn from them, and he is an appealing protagonist. The title has a dual meaning. First, it refers to a painting by Jane Neal, called "Fair Day," which may point to the identity of her assailant. Additionally, "still life" is a metaphor for a person whose life is emotionally stunted and who blames others for his problems, instead of developing into a mature and productive adult. "Still Life" is an auspicious debut novel by a promising new author.
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122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!, May 17, 2007
This is the most powerful debut mystery I've read in years. Meet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sureté de Québec, the most capable, intelligent, and charming detective to come along in a very long while. His first case takes him to the tiny town of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, where someone has killed a much-loved elderly woman with a bow-and-arrow. Who? Why? Gamache must sift through the complex relationships of a colorful group of local citizens to find the surprising answers.

Here are my favorite current mystery series authors: P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes...and Louise Penny. Yes, she's that good. Trust me. Read STILL LIFE, then read A FATAL GRACE, the second in the series and every bit as good as the first one. I can't wait for #3. Highly recommended.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I want to move to Three Pines!, June 26, 2008
Louise Penny has written a wonderful "cozy murder mystery." The mystery is intriguing and well laid out. It is the characters, though, that you will fall in love with. They make the story! In this book that is the first in a series, Penny does a great job "hooking" the reader so that you want to read more about Three Pines. I bought Fatal Grace (the second book) at the same time as this one, and I am glad I did. I jumped right into it when I finished Still Life. Definitely worth your while!
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant little visit to a small town in Quebec... well, except for the murder and all, October 23, 2006
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Though I usually go in for tough police thrillers, I sometimes mix things up by reading a light, funny mystery or- like this book- a quiet, thoughtful mystery set in a small town (a "cozy", I believe this type of mystery novel is called). "Still Life" nicely combines the easygoing attributes of a "cozy" mystery- quirky, eccentric characters, a small-town setting, pretty much no violence- with a little modernity, in the form of occasional well-placed profanity (though not much) and modern demographics (a gay couple is included among the main characters).

The main detective character, intelligent and interesting, owes a little to Christie's Hercule Poirot, but not everything. The mystery itself is pretty interesting, too, though some aspects of its solution are a little broad and clunky, as are some of the explanations of why ultimately cleared characters were acting suspicious for a time. Any shortcomings are quibbles, however, and shouldn't deter one from trying out this nicely done mystery story set in a quiet little corner of Quebec.
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114 of 131 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some flaws in first novel in a series, October 13, 2009
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This review is from: Still Life (Paperback)
Although this is by no means a bad book, I didn't like it nearly as much as the other reviewers. To me, the writing was sometimes disjointed and did not flow smoothly, in particular in the conversation between characters and sometimes when jumping between the present and the past. For a first novel about a village and the police officers called there to investigate a suspicious death, there was too much detail to absorb about all the different characters. A good series peels the layers away gradually, allowing depth to be revealed over time. I thought this book tried to reveal too much, too soon.

Inspector Gamache IS an appealing and intelligent character. All of the officers are supposed to be sharp in intellect. That made it strange (and annoying) to see how young officer Nichol misunderstood her superior's advice. It was also mystifying how Gamache, who is so observant and understanding of human nature, could not see how his advice to Nichol had gone wrong.

Finally, I just didn't "buy" the villian of the book. There were enough other plausible suspects to make it interesting, but, in the end, I couldn't believe that the killer could have kept his or her true nature hidden from so many intelligent people for so long. How could the other villagers have not seen something to make them know the nature of this callous individual over the many years they had lived together closely? In a big city where you nod hello to the other people in your apartment building, then I buy that you say "He seemed like such a nice guy." I grew up in a small town, and I found it hard to believe that almost no one really knew the killer. I want to read a mystery that makes sense and that is internally consistent, but I felt this book fell a bit short in that regard.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you love a plot twist, this one's a letdown, March 12, 2012
I really really wanted to love this author. My favourite mystery writer is Ruth Rendell, and, having read all of her books, I had hoped to find a new talent in this author, who writes about my former backyard in the province of Quebec. I know the places well, I know the French/Anglo conflict well, and so I had the highest of hopes.

The book is not a disaster. Despite its flaws, she moves the plot along nicely but the conclusion just doesn't make any sense and doesn't hit you in the gut like a Rendell plot device would.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare author to author, so let me just tell you what annoys me about this book. Take it for what it's worth, my opinion, and only that.

I found the writing awkward and disjointed, particularly because so much of the writing is dialogue and Louise doesn't do it well, in my opinion. That's not how people talk to each other. I also didn't buy the characters, except for Gamache. He is a standout character and I would have liked more insight into how his mind works, rather than reading bland and, to my ears, very phony dialogue from characters who didn't have anything to pull me into their lives and keep me there. The character of Clara the artist was particularly non-believable. Grating, in fact. And the two gay men who own a bistro. Could they be any more caricaturish? I was dumbounded by the broad-strokes stereotyping going on in this book.

I gave the book 2 stars because 1) Gamache is fascinating, and 2) I really did want to know who killed that nice old lady and why (so I kept reading); but when I got to the end I was furiously disappointed in the lacklustre ending.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Despite Glowing Reviews, Not Great, September 12, 2014
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Amazon Customer (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Kindle Edition)
I had read that this was a "superb" mystery series (in the NY Times, even) and to be fair, this is Ms. Penny's very first book in the Inspector Gamache series. Maybe she came on strong in later books. But "Still Life" seemed pretty terrible to me -- full of unbelievable dialogue, wooden characters, and nutty descriptions of emotional trauma. ("Clara felt that someone had scooped not just her heart but her brain right out of her body.") Inspector Gamache isn't much fun to hang out with. The big clue left by the murder victim that's revealed at the end makes no sense at all.

The Kindle edition has study questions at the end, and one is "Which character in Three Pines would you like to have coffee with?" I honestly (and sadly) couldn't think of one. I could barely remember anyone's name.

Sorry to be such a negative nellie. I just wanted to warn any potential readers who (like me) had heard how wonderful these books are not to get their hopes up too much. This first one, at least, is very weak tea.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cute, Innocuous Little Mystery, November 22, 2011
By 
Deborah McGrane (Southeastern U.S.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Kindle Edition)
I'm typically not a fan of the humorous mystery novel, but Still Life won me over....just barely. In this novel we are introduced to Chief Inspector Gamache, a rather bland detective I never got a true feel for, and his equally blank subordinates, who are assigned to investigate a murder in a very small town not far from Montreal. The citizens of this small town consist of your usual "wacky" cast of characters: meddling old biddies, eccentric artists, the "fun" gay couple, etc., but they were enjoyable to read about nonetheless. The murder investigation takes several twists and turns, and frankly I was just ready for it all to be over with by the end. I never felt like the author was leading me anywhere as I read along. The resolution is fairly clever and satisfying, although I found myself not really caring "whodunit" all that much. Still, I found this book to be a worthy first effort and will likely try another book in the series. Good if you want something lighthearted to read, but nothing you just HAVE to have.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars incredibly good writing, September 3, 2006
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E Rice (western ny state) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
this is an amazing, beautifully written first novel. not only is the plot first rate, the characters are drawn with a rare degree of perception and even compassion. the relationships are realistic and change as the investigation proceeds and when the murderer is caught. the dialogue is natural, and reflects the personality of the character speaking.

there is also wonderful humor in the descriptions and the dialogue.

this is the mystery to lend the friends who think mysteries are shallow, formulaic and generally not worth wasting time on. this is the book to lend to friends who love good writing.

i can't wait for the next.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read, though a little flawed, November 25, 2007
By 
Vanadia (East Lansing, MI United States) - See all my reviews
The author of Still Life has received excellent reviews for her first novel. I found her writing to be witty and her characters entertaining and well-developed. However, I wasn't wholly impressed. I don't consider myself to be a particularly savvy crime solver, nor do I read many mystery novels; nevertheless, I found myself one step ahead of the fictional detectives. Without divulging too much information to anyone who hasn't read the book, I was annoyed by clues overlooked by detectives until the end of the book (particularly the painting "Fair Day", which would obviously play heavily into solving the crime since the murdered victim painted it - and was planning to exhibit it - just before her death). Additionally, suspects that may have been heavily considered in real life were tediously examined in the book even though the reader knew the suspects wouldn't prove to be guilty, if not due to the reader's intuition, then to the strong character development and literary and biblical quotes thrown to us by the author. However, Penny's engaging writing kept me reading and could easily pardon any flaws perceived in her story. Is it not delicious to be privy to a small town's secrets while solving a crime?

My final criticism involves the wise and well-respected Chief Inspector Gamache. He seems bathed in inherent goodness and is well-experienced in his field. However, I hoped a colleague would knock sense into him. What veteran detective would share valuable information integral to the case with the townsfolk and then attempt to brainstorm and solve the crime in their presence? It's hard to believe that Gamache was a successful detective as he revealed hunches in front of a room full of suspects. He goes a step further into absurdity by enlisting the help of eager townsfolk (who are also the victim's friends and need I say, identified as suspects by Gamache) to strip wallpaper off of the walls of the victim's home to search for clues. This inspector has teams of investigators at the start of the novel and he enlists the support of experts near and far, yet when it comes to removing wallpaper he is short-handed and has a staff who must be limited in experience. He leaves the work to some of his lead suspects and lets them do the work without supervision.

Penny's book is entertaining and she has done a considerable amount of research (e.g., the field of archery). Her characters are fresh and nearly tangible. The end of the book can get the heart racing - even if you have figured out who the killer is well before. And, the end also reveals the finishing touches on some excellent character portraits.
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