Still Life – Book Review

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1 by: Louise Penny
Published on: September 30, 2008

“Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.”

My first Louise Penny book! I’ve read so many wonderfully written reviews on a few of her books that it was becoming difficult not to add her books to my list, especially since I enjoy detective stories/police procedurals.

Still Life is set in the small village of Three Pines, Quebec Canada. And when a retired teacher who also enjoys painting is found dead it sends shock waves throughout the close-knit community. To help solve the mystery of her death, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in and begin their investigation.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this book on audio. But there are four things that really stood out to me and helped make it into this enjoyable story. The first is how well the community is created and developed. You never get the sense that it is a random bunch of characters that the author pulled together with no thought in mind. But instead their town knowledge, backgrounds, and friendships help make it indeed feel close-knit.

The second is how the Chief Inspector manages his team. He is never a bully or dictator. Instead, he invites cooperation from among his team members, which spills out into how he treats and responds to the villagers. It is never confrontational or at least any confrontation is not without reason.

I also rather appreciated how the author used one specific device within the story to hook me and keep me interested. Early on in the story, we are informed that no one has even entered a part of the deceased’s house. You immediately understand that there is a sense of mystery about it and that it is important, but you don’t necessarily why it is important or to what extent. Throughout the story it continues to be mentioned, until we finally get an entrance to the house that has been off limits. Once inside, the author continues adding to the intrigue. She could have ended the intrigue, answered our questions, and moved us beyond the house. Instead, she choose to continue using the house in various ways. Overall, I thought it was just very well done.

Lastly, I appreciated how the story took a look at ‘still life’. I went into the story thinking ‘still life’ meant one thing, but of course it turns out it means more than that. But what impressed me more was how philosophical the phrase became and even gave me a few moments pause to examine my own life.

Rating: A solid 4 – 4.5 stars.