Sunday, April 06, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Still Life by Louise Penny

I found this book while browsing the shelves at my public library. I've got towers of books to read at home, so what was I thinking when I checked out this book?? Whatever the reason, I'm glad I brought it home to read.

Still Life is a mystery cozy featuring a small Canadian village in Southern Quebec called Three Pines, eccentric characters, and, of course, a murder.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called upon to solve the death of Jane Neal, a beloved and elderly member of Three Pines. It is inconceivable to the residents that anyone would murder Jane, though, curiously, it appears that one of them is the murderer. Chief Inspector Gamache and his team must invade the privacy of these villagers in order to find out the who and why of the murder.

Much of the interest of Still Life lies in the characters themselves. Peter and Clara Morrow, both artists, struggle with hidden jealousies and marital communication; Ben Hadley, Peter's life-long friend, harbors a secret desire for Clara; the teenage Phillipe Croft has recently given in to an unexplainable surliness and withdrawn from his family; Ruth, an elderly embittered poet, is cruel and abrasive and may have been responsible for the death of one of Jane's friends; Yolande, Jane's niece, appears to be the sole recipient of Jane's estate and has an unhealthy attitude of entitlement along with a husband whose major talents are criminal behavior and sneering at others.

While the Chief Inspector sorts through the various undercurrents of village life, he also contends with an insecure and arrogant new detective, Yvette Nichols. Gamache takes his role as mentor seriously and is a patient teacher who offers Yvette many opportunities to learn and grow.

A major theme in many mysteries is redemption. Not only does the reader want to see the crime solved and justice served, but we expect to see the redemption of characters that we don't like. Mysteries of the cozy variety tend to deliver a tidy ending that allows the reader to place characters in either a good, bad, or redeemed category. Louise Penny doesn't follow this pattern. Several of her characters continue in their unlikeable actions and attitudes despite the helpful hand that is held out to them ... much like real life. I believe the title of the book describes this lack of redemption. A still life can refer to a life that is ended (e.g. Jane), but it can also refer to a life that doesn't move, a lack of growth and maturation ... a lack of character redemption.

Still Life is Louise Penny's debut novel. It is written and plotted well. The characters are well drawn and memorable. I look forward to reading the other two books in this series ... soon!

Also reviewed at:
Thoughts of Joy


  1. I only recently became aware of this author, and her series does sound like a good one. Thank you for the review!

  2. I had picked this book up at the used bookstore in Knoxville a few months ago. It was sitting in my stash to read until Lesa Holstine blogged about it recently. I quickly moved it up in my stash. I'm glad that I did too. I also appreciated the fact that the author didn't follow all the usual formulas. I'll have to admit that there were several characters that I would have preferred to have been the whodunit than the one it was. I'm looking forward to others in the series too, but I'll probably try to find them at McKays (the bookstore I mentioned). I also loved the different setting!

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog! This was a very good cozy mystery and I plan on reading through the series. Glad you liked it, too. :)

  4. So far, I'm the only person who dosn't like this book. The characters just grated on my nerves, but I did enjoy the setting.