I’d seen recommendations for new books by Louise Penny popping up all over the place. I was interested in reading them, but I thought it best that I begin at the beginning. So, I picked up Still Life (2005), the first book in Penny’s prolific Inspector Gamache series. And I found Still Life to be a very pleasant murder mystery. I’d like to read the entire series, but there are so many books, it will take me awhile to get to all of them.
An elderly woman is shot through the heart with an arrow. Her body is found on a trail in the small, french-canadian town of Three Pines. The woman was Jean Neal, a beloved school teacher and long-time resident. Chief Inspector Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is sent down to Three Pines to investigate the murder. He brings his team, a number of people, including: Jean Guy Beauvoir–his very reliable second in command, as well as Yvette Nichol–a rookie determined to prove her worth.
At first the townspeople assume that Jane Neal was tragically killed by an out-of-town hunter, but the more we learn about the circumstances, we realize the less likely it was an accident. In addition, as Inspector Gamache digs into the history and relationships in this idyllic, little town, it turns out that a number of inhabitants may have motivation for murder.
Chief Inspector Gamache is not what most would consider your typical murder investigator. He is sensitive, compassionate, and caring. Although his wife is not a part of this book, his actions towards her show how much he cares about her. He reads poetry, and he quietly stands up for what he believes in without drama. In addition, I found Yvette Nichol to be an especially memorable character because she was trying so hard and failing so dramatically. Her judgments and views were so arrogant and annoying. But when Yvette Nichol turns out to be both mean spirited and a bad investigator, Inspector Gamache tries to mentor her before giving up on her.
The rest of the characters in this book were drawn well and add to the novel. There is Oliver and Gabri, a gay couple and owners of the local inn/cafe. Peter and Clara are two, poor artists who married for love. Myrna is the burned-out psychologist from the city who has more recently opened up book store in Three Pines. Ruth is the grumpy, old woman who also happens to be a famous poet. Yolande is Jane’s niece and she lives outside of Three Pines, but as the last remaining family and possible suspect, she plays an important role in the book.
This mystery did not feel especially suspenseful or scary until nearly the end. It focused much more on the characters, their lives, and how they interacted. I definitely enjoyed it.
The only problem I had was with the final reveal in the book. We learn from almost everyone that Ben’s mother is a horrible woman who treats Ben terribly. Her house is run down and contaminated with snakes. But this is a woman who’s lived in Three Pines her entire life. The town took turns sitting by her bedside when she was dying. So, they know her personally. Why would they believe and spread these lies about her? I did suspect Ben because Inspector Gamache found that Ben did not go on a hike every morning like he said, but I wasn’t sure why until it was all revealed. It felt like a bit of a cheat, so I was a little disappointed.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.