Still Life, by Louise Penny

For ages it seems like everyone in my extended family (well, my dad, my cousin, and my aunt, anyway) have been reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries, but I had never picked one up. I finally decided with the new year, and the appearance of a TV series based on the books, that I should give them a try.

So … Three Pines, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec (I think it’s the Eastern Townships … some rural place with a lot more English people than you’d expect in Quebec) is an idyllic little village made up of quirky, colourful characters. Idyllic, that is, until a beloved local former teacher and aspiring artist is brutally murdered, and the wise and kind Inspector Gamache comes down from Montreal to investigate. Unfortunately, it looks like this is going to be the first in a string of (at this point) 18 brutal murders, so I’m guessing Three Pines is a lot less idyllic after all these books have been written, but it’s still a pretty quiet little place in this novel, and if the quirkiness of the characters sometimes veers a bit into twee-ness, well, it’s still better than a hard-edged gritty mystery that ends with you hating the victim, the murderer, the detective, and the rest of the human race.

Inspector Gamache is a nice change from the hard-bitten, cynical, world-weary detective: a gentle, insightful man whose most important detective skill is really listening to people, and who seems to genuinely care. I hope that he, like Three Pines, is not too badly tarnished by the bloodbath that’s about to unfold over the next several volumes. The actual mystery took till about halfway through the book before it became genuinely engaging (and I found the same to be true of the second book in the series, A Fatal Grace, which is all I’ve read so far — but I have no problem with a book that has a slow start and takes time setting the scene. Not an un-put-downable five-star read for me, but a solid four stars that interests me enough to continue on with the series.


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