Still Life by Louise Penny

She doesn’t look like a misanthropic poet, but, if it’s true that the characters in a novel all reflect some aspect of the author’s personality, she may not be nearly as sweet as she looks in this photo. That’s Louise Penny, who has written ten complex detective novels featuring Chief Inspector of Homicide Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. Still Life was the first of the lot.

In addition to the misanthropic poet, the book’s cast of characters includes an insightful African-American psychologist retired to a tiny village as a bookstore owner, a Mutt-and-Jeff-like gay couple who run the village’s bistro and B & B, a saintly retired schoolteacher, a truly nasty real estate agent, a rookie cop with the mind and personality of a five-year-old, and, of course, the brilliant Chief Inspector Gamache. And there are others. It would be difficult to find a novel with a broader range of personal quirks and idiosyncrasies or a more natural and convincing blend of tragedy and humor.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny ★★★★★ 

Consider this scene: Chief Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Inspector Beauvoir, have just removed several dead mice from basement traps in an old house and left them on the grass outside.

“‘They’ll be eaten,’ said Beauvoir.

“‘Exactly. Something will benefit at least. Abby Hoffman said we should all eat what we kill. That would put an end to war.’

“Not for the first time Beauvoir was at a loss for words with Gamache. Was he serious? Was he, perhaps, a little touched? And who was Abbe Offman? A local cleric? Sounds like exactly the sort of things some Christian mystic would say.”

That’s hardly the type of exchange you’re likely to come across in a typical detective novel!

The central plot of Still Life revolves around the shocking murder of the retired school teacher in the charming little Quebec village of Three Pines. Gamache and his team descend on the isolated settlement in force shortly before Thanksgiving. Their investigation twists and turns through several suspects, uncovering long-buried secrets along the way — and continues to surprise to the end.

Penny wrote Still Life after marrying a doctor, leaving a career as a radio broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and turning to writing full time. The book won a slew of literary awards, as have virtually all the novels in the series since then.

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