Still Life

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Louise Penny, 2006; Gamache /  Three Pines Mysteries #1

Still Life is the first book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. In the quaint Quebec village of Three Pines, a beloved local painter who has refused until very recently to show any of her work to her friends and neighbors is found dead, shortly after entering one of her works into a local competition.  Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec (provincial police force for Quebec) and his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. While solving this mystery, the pair first becomes acquainted with the village that would one day be home for one of them. They meet villagers that would become lifelong friends to both men.

In most cases the detective who solves crimes in a cozy mystery is an amateur sleuth. Although this particular series could be considered detective fiction -it’s certainly got plots that are involved enough and there is plenty of police involvement and police corruption on multiple levels – I am reviewing it as a cozy due to the decidedly warm, fuzzy nature of the narrative and the world Louise Penny has created for her readers. Let’s call it a cozy with some grit.

Armand Gamache is hard to believe.  While solving murders in Quebec and elsewhere, he mentors others, always tapping into vast reserves of patience and heroism. He loves his wife and his two adult children fiercely.  As this series develops, Armand faces increasing betrayal and loss of reputation with acceptance that some would consider unrealistic.  He is nearly flawless as a human and a police officer.

Although I wish I could live there, the village of Three Pines is definitely also too good to be true; it can’t be found except by those who are lost. (One wonders if that includes us, the readers.) The village is not on any map and has no cell coverage, yet its urbane and quirky residents support themselves as proprietors of small businesses including a B&B, a bistro, and a bookstore. (Actually, we do find out how one of these characters effortlessly stays afloat – it’s the subject of one of the books in the series, and it’s quite imaginative. Riveting, really.)

In spite of the insupportable economics of Three Pines and the unlikely saintliness of Armand Gamache, this is a pleasant series. A suspension of disbelief is necessary; just believe, and get lost in the charm of Three Pines. I recommend the audio version, narrated in the US by Ralph Cosham until his death, when Robert Brathurst was selected to continue the series.  In Britain the narrator is/was Adam Sims for at least some of the series. Brathurst may have replaced Sims as well.