Book Review: Still Life

STILL LIFE | Louise Penny
(Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1)
09.30.2008 | Minotaur Books
Rating: 4/5 stars

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It’s Thanksgiving in Quebec’s quaint town of Three Pines and friends are gathering to enjoy each other’s company on this holiday. One morning the body of Jane Neal, a beloved member of the community is found dead in the woods. All signs of the death lead one to believe that a stray hunter’s arrow took her life, but when the police are called in to investigate, things slowly seam to wipe away this notion.

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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 usually found their way back.

Who could possibly want Jane Neal dead? Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is determined to get to the bottom of the case along with help from his trusted detective Jean Guy Beauvoir. As the pair get to know each member of Three Pines they determine that this community is full of just as many secrets as the neighboring big cities. Close ties between villagers over decades can sometimes hold dark, untold feelings at the core. Could Jane have been murdered by someone she considered a friend?

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His little secret was that in his mid-fifties, at the height of a long and now apparently stalled career, violent death still surprised him. Which was odd, for the head of homicide, and perhaps one of the reasons he hadn’t progressed further in the cynical world of the S
ûreté. Gamache always hoped maybe someone had gotten it wrong, and there was no dead body.

Louise Penny creates a modern day Agatha Christie novel in STILL LIFE by dropping the reader into a small village where no one is who they appear to be. Teamed with Chief Inspector Gamache, who parallels the famous Hercule Poirot in his determination and sometimes peculiar detective style, the setting and characters effortlessly draw this comparison. Penny creates a depth to each resident of Three Pines who might have interacted with Jane Neal and subsequently earned the title of suspect. These characters are both loveable and loathsome, while staying true to themselves and claiming a spot in the reader’s heart.

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In all the years Jean Guy Beauvoir had worked with Gamache, through all the murders and mayhem, it never ceased to thrill him, hearing the simple sentence. ‘Tell me what you know.’ It signaled the beginning of the hunt. He was the alpha dog. And Chief Inspector Gamache was the Master of the Hunt.

I grew up with my nose in a book and once I graduated from Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie was one of the first authors to truly solidify my love for this genre. STILL LIFE is a great tribute to this classic style of twists and turns found within a common setting. Louise Penny creates an undeniably memorable character with Chief Inspector Gamache, but doesn’t forget the “little people” by surrounding him with a cast of minor characters that will leave the reader wanting to know more as they make themselves at home in their lives. I’m thankful that this is the start of a long running series where I will get the chance to continue on my adventure with Three Pines and Gamache. So, brush on your French and go pick up this entertaining piece of crime fiction!

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