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Still Life Paperback – September 30, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* The residents of a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines are shocked when the body of Miss Jane Neal is found in the woods. Miss Neal, the village's retired schoolteacher and a talented amateur artist, has been a good friend to most of the townsfolk, so her loss is keenly felt. At first, her death appears to be a tragic accident--it's deer-hunting season, and it looks a stray hunter's arrow killed her. But some folks are suspicious, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Montreal Surete is called in to investigate. Accompanying Gamache are his loyal assistant Beauvoir and Yvette Nichol, a new addition to Gamache's team. The trio soon finds that the seemingly peaceful, friendly village hides dark secrets. The truth is both bizarre and shocking, even to the jaded Gamache and his team. This is a real gem of a book that slowly draws the reader into a beautifully told, lyrically written story of love, life, friendship, and tragedy. And it's a pretty darn good mystery too. This belongs in the same league with such other outstanding Canadian mysteries as Eric Wright's Charlie Salter series. Emily Melton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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”Still Life” is the first novel by Louise Penny. The book was published in 2007, and the twelfth book in the series will be published in August of this year. This should give you some indication of both the series’ success, and the work ethic of the author.
The book introduces the title character, Armand Gamache, a chief inspector of the Sûreté du Québec, as he seeks to solve a murder in a small village near Montreal. The village itself, and its eclectic denizens, becomes a character in the book, quirky and unique, always providing some background movement to draw the eye. The setting in a small village in the Canadian province of Quebec also adds interest, as Penny delves (a little bit) into the tensions, and friendships, between francophone and anglophone Québécois.
The supporting characters are also incredibly well done. From the strange and eccentric citizens of Three Pines, to the police officers tasked with solving the murder, each character is uniquely realized and speaks with a distinct voice. However, Penny tends to rely heavily on exposition to advance her characters in the story, rather than dialogue. Characters thought lines tend to spell out exactly how they are reacting to situations that arise in the book, rather than letting the subtext of their actions or dialogue advance the plot. The style is clunky and a bit disappointing, but hopefully can be chalked up to inexperience on the author’s part. (I certainly hope so, I started the second book in the series, A Fatal Grace, yesterday. I’ll keep you all posted)
The mystery itself is satisfying, red herrings and false flags abound. And while the clues to solving the mystery are there to be found, they don’t slap the reader in the face and scream “look at me!” This (I find) is a hard line for mystery writers to walk. Make the resolution too obscure, or the clues happen off screen, and the end is unsatisfying and feels tacked on. Telegraph the important stuff too loudly, and the mystery is solved by the read way too early, and takes a lot of the fun out of the read. Louise Penny does a great job sprinkling bits and pieces around, but blends them expertly into the background. It’s only when you go back and think about it that you put the pieces together.
In all, this is a satisfying “cozy-type” mystery, great for an afternoon’s read (and it is currently beach-reading season). The book is generally well written (barring the clunky exposition I mentioned earlier), and the characters engaging enough to encourage you to jump directly into the sequel. I also have to say that Penny captures the northeastern landscape in fall closely enough to cause some homesickness in this transplanted New Englander.
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Let me say that, although I would have enjoyed reading this book on its own merit, my enjoyment was multiplied like ten times over because of the buddy read I participated in. It was so much fun hashing out each chapter, floating our ‘whodunit’ theories and grousing about the characters we despised or gushing over the ones we loved. If you haven’t read any Louise Penny/Inspector Gamache books, or if you are already a Three Pines fan, please think about joining our brand spanking new Goodreads Group, The Penny Pushers! We plan to read one book in this series each month, and finish the entire series a year from now. Look us up! And even if you don’t, go enjoy yourself some Louise Penny goodness.