Monday, February 13, 2023

"Still Life" by Louise Penny

I may have both my Canadian and mystery novel fan credentials revoked for admitting this, but I had never read a Louise Penny/Three Pines/Gamache novel -- until now.  I'd heard great reviews from many sources and always had it in mind that I should give the series a try, but... well, you know... so many books, so little time, etc. etc...!  

Then, in a recent Friday Roundup post,  Mel mentioned

The Substack (Loribeth is so right! Substacks are blogs in disguise.) Notes from Three Pines is hosting an ongoing Inspector Gamache read-along. It kicks off on February 22, so you have time to read the first book (Still Life). I will jump in because my old book club closed down, and I’m looking for a more structured community beyond Goodreads. But not too structured because I don’t want to leave my house.

Does anyone else want to join along? And then go on a road trip to the greater Montreal area?

I responded in a comment: 

I am game for Montreal (and maybe the read-along too, albeit I need another book club like a hole in the head, lol). Despite my (relative) proximity — it’s only about a six-hour drive from here, and I think some of the nonstop trains can get there in 4 — I’ve only been there once, overnight on business (followed by [note from Loribeth: actually, preceded by] six hours in Quebec City before flying home again). This was about 30 years ago, and I spent most of my time either in a hotel room or board room. My mom & I were going to take the train there for a few days when she came to visit me about 20+ years ago — the train tickets were bought and hotel room booked, I’d researched stuff for us to do — but we had to cancel. I was suffering horrible anxiety attacks, post-infertility treatment, just before she got there and I did not want to be in a strange city and not feeling well. 🙁

Despite the fact that (as I alluded to Mel) I'm ALREADY trying to keep up with 3 -- wait, 4! -- active book clubs/reading groups (D.E. Stevenson, L.M. Montgomery Readathon, and Lighthouse Women -- both the NoMo book club and the "Living the Life Unexpected" reading group -- plus two other groups are that are inactive at the moment) -- plus read some books of my own choosing once in a while!  ;) -- I couldn't resist the opportunity. ;)  Conveniently, I already had a copy of "Still Life" in my Kobo e-reader, purchased on sale a while back, so I was able to dive in as soon as I finished reading my previous book.  

*** *** *** 

In many ways, "Still Life" is a standard murder mystery, with echoes of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. I didn't find the opening chapter, where the stage is set and the body discovered, especially exciting or attention-grabbing -- but once Chief Inspector Armand Gamache arrived on the scene, my interest was piqued.  The body in question is that of Jane Neal, retired schoolteacher and amateur artist, whose painting was just accepted for exhibit at the local art show. Upon closer inspection, the cause of death is revealed:  an arrow, straight through her heart. Was it a hunting accident -- or was it murder?  Who killed her, and why?  

Two things in particular set this book apart and made it a good read for me: first, the Canadian/Quebecois setting and references. Examples:  it's Thanksgiving -- *Canadian* Thanksgiving, in October! :)  There are mentions of Tim Hortons, United Empire Loyalists, the Parti Quebecois, the referendum on Quebec independence (I'm assuming the one in 1995, which came dangerously close to destroying the country, and not the earlier one in 1980) and Prime Minister Mulroney (who stepped down in 1993 -- which, along with the referendum reference and a teenager's Discman suggests the book is set in the early 1990s). 

Second, I loved the vivid portraits of the village of Three Pines and its quirky residents -- and of the principled and thoroughly decent Gamache and his fellow police officers (even the clueless and annoying Yvette Nichol). I'm not convinced I'd want to move to Three Pines -- there are some rather dark undercurrents there (aren't there always, in small towns?) -- but I sure would love to spend some time browsing in Myrna's bookstore and have a meal and a cafe au lait in Olivier's bistro.  :)  Especially in October, with the glorious fall colours on full display.  :)  

What I didn't like: I don't want to give away any spoilers -- but let's just say that I share a phobia with one of the main characters, Clara ;)  which figures prominently in a chapter near the end of the book. That scene alone probably knocked half a point off my rating, lol. ;)  

4 stars on Goodreads. As I said, this was my first Louise Penny novel, but it won't be my last. I'm looking forward to reading more about Gamache and Three Pines, very soon.  :)  

Have you read any Louise Penny books?  Are you doing the Notes From Three Pines Readalong? And have you watched the new streaming TV series based on the books, "Three Pines"?  Thoughts? (I don't have Amazon Prime and haven't seen it, but I must admit, I think Alfred Molina was a good casting choice for Gamache. :)  )  

This was Book #8 read to date in 2023 (and Book #2 finished in February), bringing me to 18% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  


  1. I am SO EXCITED for you. SO EXCITED. You have so much ahead of you! I am not a murder mystery fan usually and I ADORE these books. They're amazing. I can't remember what happens in each book (i.e. the murder) but the character development of the inhabitants of Three Pines (and Gamache's officers) is what sticks with you. Modern Mrs Darcy says (and I agree with her) that the series really hits its stride by book four or five. Book one is a first book, and the cases in two and three are a bit weird. But then it really gets going and it is honestly something that has brought me so much joy. I've lost track of how many people I've badgered into starting the series.

    Quebec is a character in the series and I love that about the books. She does such a fabulous job of making them distinctly, proudly, Quebecois.

    I did watch the series on Amazon, not without reservations because I knew it would affect how I saw the characters. It had its highs and lows. Alfred Molina was truly excellent as Gamache. They badly miscast Clara and made her much too young. Lacoste was fabulous. Beauvoir was good but not quite how I'd pictured him.

    1. Good to hear from you, Turia! :) That is quite the recommendation! lol I think I remember reading that in MMD -- or somewhere?? -- that the books improve after the first few. Looking forward to more, soon!

  2. Not just reading more but joining the Three Pines thread, too, next week? So excited. I agree that these books are more about the town and the people. The landscape. The culture. More than the mystery, which wasn't my favourite part of the first book. Now on to the second, which has a clunky opening, but I'm hoping that it will get better because I love the town and people.

    1. Well, I certainly plan to read what others have to say, and I imagine I won't be able to resist a comment or two of my own, lol. I feel the same way about the Flavia deLuce books by Alan Bradley, and the Thursday Murder Club books by Richard Osman... well, any really good mystery series, I suppose ;) -- the mystery is secondary to the characters.