Still Life

Vase of flowers in front of a window
Louise Penny
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Sep 19, 2020

Louise Penny has written a heart warming mystery series set in Canada. Murder and heart warming might not seem like they go together, but it works here. The series features Inspector Armand Gamache, a charming and quiet Chief Inspector of homicide. First called to the remote village of Three Pines, we meet the main characters of the town, but also Gamache’s team. There is a lot of character development and rich descriptions of the settings, which are  the real draw of the series. There seems to be an alarming amount of murder in the quaint town of Three Pines, Quebec. We find ourselves here, book after book, although we do have an occasional change of scene. 

A subplot runs alongside the main focus of each book – the inner politics of the Sûreté du Quebec. In each book, we learn a little more and get glimpses into Gamache’s work life and his relationships inside the Sûreté. The mystery of loyalties and factions are interwoven and peek through, appropriately, in how the investigations are carried out. But they are scant enough to keep us guessing and provide another mystery to follow across the series.

With 16 titles currently in the series, readers (or listeners) can settle in to the surroundings and get to know the characters and town intimately. I wouldn’t call these mysteries cozy, but they do come close.  It seems there is always a murder (confession: I have only made it through book 5 of the series so far, so I don’t yet know the particulars of all the books), which takes place off-scene, so while we are spared actual violence and gory details, there are some strong descriptions of the manner of death. While the books are leisurely paced, they aren’t sleepy or boring. The rich details of the setting and the development of the characters keep the pace moving along steadily. If you didn’t study French or grow up speaking it, and find yourself challenged with the names of people and places, the audiobooks are a great way to enjoy this series. The narrator does a fantastic job capturing the spirit of these mysteries, and you won’t find yourself stumbling through any words you aren’t familiar with. Additionally, the narrator’s smooth voice perfectly fits the pacing of these mellow mysteries.

The series starts with Still Life, when Jane Neal, a former school teacher and secret artist is found dead in the woods. Many assume is a tragic hunting accident, but investigations slowly uncover many of the resident’s secrets.   

To get a good feel for the series, I recommend trying more than one. 

The first three of the series are: 

Still Life

A Fatal Grace

The Cruelest Month

Reviewed by Hilary S.
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