Sunday, October 25, 2015

Louise Penny. Still Life (2005)

      Louise Penny. Still Life (2005) I volunteer at our blood donor clinic, which offers opportunities for pleasant chats. Recently, a donor recommended Penny’s books, so I borrowed this one from the library. Glad I did, this is a very well done mystery novel. It’s the first in a series. I’m glad I followed up on the recommendation.
     The web comments say that Penny’s books are “village cozies”, but that’s a hugely superficial comment. True, the gore is minimal, and the setting is Three Pines, a village in Quebec’s eastern Townships region. And the ambience is cozy in the sense that everybody knows everybody else, and most people like each other, too. But the emotional damage that spreads outward from a murder is anything but cozy. Family relationships are strained and broken. People discover unpleasant truths about themselves. Some stupidly nasty people are irredeemable. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache can’t save a self-centered careerist young officer from herself. Penny is too wise a writer to tie up all loose ends in tidy happy endings.
     The world of Three Pines is fully realised. Knowing that there ten more novels in the series soothed the dissatisfaction of incomplete back-stories and merely sketched characters. But even these sketches have the quirkiness of real life.
     For those who haven’t yet read a Gamache book, begin with this one. A well-loved spinster school-teacher is murdered with a hunting arrow. The mystery is fairly represented, with all the clues in plain sight. Their significance is primarily psychological, not forensic. Gamache is one of those  detectives who solves crimes by listening to people, intuiting their personalities and character, linking present facts to the past. The officer who fails to learn from him can’t see past the literal, and the only character that interests her is her own.
     Penny’s strength is creating a complete world. I didn’t want to leave it, and read this book in one short and two long sittings. ****

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