CBR12 BINGO: No Money!
I’ve noticed two trends during the pandemic that are relevant to this category: first, people seem to be taking time to declutter their homes; second, since many Goodwill stores have been closed, free stuff is often just laying about. On one of my many socially distant walks around my neighborhood, I spotted a box of mystery novels that someone was giving away. Not wanting to be greedy, I helped myself only to the first in the series, as it looked like some good, light, pandemic-appropriate reading.
Still Life is the first in a mystery series by Canadian author Louise Penny. It fits the “cozy mystery,” mold, taking place in the charming village of Three Pines in Quebec. I immediately got a Canadian “Murder She Wrote” vibe from this novel, with all the villagers being friendly and folksy and the local businesses featuring the required B&B, a bistro/antique shop, and a bookstore. It’s all very quaint.
This first novel in the series focuses on the death of Jane Neal, a local school teacher and amateur artist. Having recently been accepted into a prestigious local art show (though her art is not to everyone’s taste), she is found dead in the woods, killed by an arrow. Was it murder, or an accident? If it was an accident, why hasn’t anyone come forward? Is it just coincidence that the incident immediately came upon the heals of the announcement of the first public showing of her art?
Coming in to solve the case is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec (that’s the police force for the province of Quebec, for those of us not up on Canadian law enforcement) and his team: his right-hand man Jean Guy Beauvoir and young newcomer Yvette Nichol.
Cozy mysteries are not my usual genre, but this novel was a nice distraction from the heavier side of life. I’m intrigued by Gamache: he has the keen senses of Hercule Poirot but with more kindness and humanity (for the record, I adore Hercule Poirot). He goes to extreme efforts to help Agent Nichol, a character I couldn’t stand. Penny gives Nichol a decent backstory that explains her desire to impress and succeed, but every action she takes reveals an annoying, self-centered martyr with zero self-awareness. I expect this character grows more likable and capable as the series progresses, but by the time I reached the last page of this book, I had no desire to ever hear from her again.
The rest of the characters are all very likable, if predictable: the delightful gay couple, the brash old lady, the thoughtful bookseller. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the solution involves Jane’s painting for the art exhibit (that’s heavily suggested from the beginning); I did feel like the solution should have been easier for the police to land on, given that they had access to actually see the painting, unlike the reader. When Gamache realized that something “was missing,” I thought, “Ok, well that was pretty key information that they should have gotten to a bit quicker, if you ask me.”
All that said, this is a pleasant enough diversion for a weekend of staying indoors. I’d consider reading more if I come upon another free box of books in my neighborhood.