The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…
Still Life by Canadian writer Louise Penny was a real discovery. There hasn’t been a start to a crime series since I’ve read the first of Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Ranks series that I enjoyed this much.
If I could I would move to Three Pines, the small fictional village, located a few hours from Montreal, in rural Québec. It’s a small village that sounds as if it was a place where time stands still and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Old cottages face a small village center and are surrounded by old trees and lush gardens. The place is very green and picturesque, the descriptions of it atmospheric and full of tiny details of the season. It’s the end of autumn, dead leaves are falling, it rains and the temperature is slowly dropping. A storm will come and soon it will be winter. Before the crime is solved, snow will begin to fall and a lot of the investigation will have taken place in front of a cozy fire.
It’s hard to believe a crime could happen is such an idyllic setting but it does and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Sureté du Québec and his team have to leave Montreal and try to find out what happened to Jane Neal. The old woman was found dead in the forest on the morning of Thanksgiving. It is the hunting season and Jane has been shot dead by an arrow. However bow, arrow and shooter are missing. Was it maybe no hunting accident?
Gamache and his team will have to stay in Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. They move into Olivier’s and Gabri’s B&B. The two men also own the local bistro which is known for its excellent food. The investigation introduces us to Jane Neal’s friends, a small but interesting community. The painters Clara and Peter, Myrna, a former psychologist who opened a book shop in Three Pines, Ben, the son of Timmer, one of Jane’s best friends, Ruth, a poet and many more.
While Still Life has at times the feel of a cozy, it’s more complex than the average novel of that genre. Chief Inspector Gamache is a kind, intelligent but strict and far from flawless man. It will be interesting to see how he will be portayed in the following books. His team is promising as well, his subordinate is a sort of son figure for him while there is a rookie character with whom he gets into one conflict after another. The novel is well constructed, moving on a steady pace and the crime isn’t solved too easily and very plausible.
I have never read a Canadian crime novel before and I was glad Louise Penny provided a lot of interesting information about Québec, the way the French and the English live together, the peculiarities of the region.
What I liked best apart from a wide range of psychological insights are the well-drawn characters and the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the place. That makes me wonder how the series will go on. It seems part two is set in Three Pines as well but the following parts are not.
If you like to immerse yourself in your crime novels and want them well constructed with detailed descriptions and some very appealing characters, you shouldn’t miss the start to this series. It’s great. And I love the cover.