Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Still Life


Author: Louise Penny (Canadian author)
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Source: Public Library
Series: #1 in Armand Gamache series
Publisher: St Martin's
First Published: April 2011
First Line: "Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe 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

My Review: This is the first book in the mystery series by well respected Canadian author Louise Penny.  While I've heard of Louise Penny I hadn't had the opportunity to pick up one of her books.  That is until I bought a copy of this book for my Mom for Christmas.  After reading the synopsis on the book jacket I hightailed it to my local library and grabbed myself a copy (seeing as asking to borrow my mom's new copy probably wouldn't be viewed as 'good gift giving' before she's even read it herself, right?).

There are a lot of things that I love about this book.  First and foremost, I loved the Canadian references.  This book oozes our awesome Canadian vibe and brings to light the issues between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec.  These issues aren't dealt with in any in-depth manner but just to add that authentic feel to the setting.  The author's description of Three Pines as the quintessential small town where everyone knows everyone else's business is perfect.  It's considered a safe place to live with "The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time" and I could totally picture it.

Inspector Gamache, the protagonist, was probably the main reason why I enjoyed this book though.  He's a very unique main character and not the traditional leading man who jumps into the fray without thinking and has a dysfunctional home life.  He's a celebrated and successful Chief Inspector with the SQ who loves his wife (wha?!) and isn't impulsive or aggressive as he solves the crime.  Instead, he observes everything and everyone and takes his time thinking things through in order figure things out.  He's a very smart man and I loved how he dealt with some of the people who work under him.

Going into this book think that I was expecting a fast-paced, edge of your seat read but the pace of the storyline surprised me.  I suppose it goes hand in hand with Gamache's method of crime solving, but I found it to be a slower paced read.  There was still a build-up of suspense over the length of the book but it was more gradual and I was actually surprised that I was ok with it.

If I have to give a negative about this book I'd have to say that there are a LOT of characters and they were, at times, hard to keep track of.  Also, while they brought interest to the storyline, some of the secondary characters, namely Yolande and the sullen Agent Nichol, were a little too clich├ęd for my tastes.  Agent Nichol, in the beginning of the book, came off as quite adept and smart.  But as soon as they arrive in Three Pines it felt like she became someone totally different.  She tried too hard, she was obtuse and rude.  It felt like it came out of nowhere.

I would say that this book falls between a cozy mystery (due to the unique and well described setting) and a suspense novel (because the characters and the mystery itself were very well developed).  The writing was wonderful and I cannot wait to pick up the next book in the series (which I hear is even better than Still Life).

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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