Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's nothing more than a tragic hunting accident, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.
Welcome to the picturesque little town of Three Pines, Quebec, not far from the city of Montreal. A colony of mostly artists, quaint shops, a misplaced black woman who owns a charming used book store, a cranky and aging poet laureate, a couple of gay men who own the B&B and a restaurant where everything is for sale, including the chair youâ€™re sitting in. The complete cast of characters is a fascinating study of small town inhabitants and the author draws a compelling storyline that demonstrates a deep understanding of human motives and relationships.
Itâ€™s Thanksgiving week and the unheard of has happenedâ€”the dead body of retired school teacher and aspiring artist Jane Neal has been found in the woods. Everyone assumes there has been a hunting accident; however, it is up to the charismatic Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to determine what, if any, crime has been committed here. He travels from his headquarters in Montreal with his associates and begins his investigation. He is an investigator who has many gifts that he employs in his line of duty, none as important as his uncanny observational and listening skills. He tries to impart his knowledge and expertise to his young female trainee, but her resistance to his advice provides an additional storyline to the narrative.
We follow Gamache and the town residents on the investigational journey which leads to many possible suspects and theories. Just when you think you have it figured out, the plot twists and youâ€™re left going in another direction. I loved the fact that I couldnâ€™t figure it out right away and a couple theories I had didnâ€™t pan out. Very entertaining. I know this is the first in a series and I will be looking for the next volume very soon. Highly recommended.
A wonderfully rich small-town setting and deftly painted characterizations enliven this mystery, giving it appeal beyond the whodunnit aspect. Cerebral and insightful, Chief Inspector Gamache is an engaging and winning character whom readers will be pleased to be reacquainted in later volumes of Pennyâ€™s well-written mystery series. Recommended for fans of both literary fiction and mysteries.
Fleaâ€™s picks for me take me out of my comfort zone this year. The village cozy is virtually virgin land for me. Iâ€™m somewhat surprised that this book charmed and gripped me the way it did. Penny has populated Three Pines with charming, unusual characters, all of whom know each other really well. This creates a certain ambience, the growing unease in knowing one of your neighbors is a killer, but also the annoyance of trying to conduct a police investigation in a place where word gets around like a wildfire. Many of Pennyâ€™s rather large cast are memorable, and make this a place to revisit. One or two might be slightly over the top â€“ eternally wise-cracking Gabri and perhaps especially Nichol, whose utter lack of self-awareness is a bit much to swallow at times.
The tendency of swapping perspectives between characters completely haphazardly is also a little distracting, especially since Penny needs to keep secrets from the reader even when we enter someoneâ€™s mind. Thereâ€™s a bit too much of â€śHe thought about the thing he knew he couldnâ€™t sayâ€ť going on. And, as often seems the case, the red herrings are perhaps a bit more interesting than the actual solution. But with the charm, wit and tenderness at the core of this book, such flaws are easily forgiven. Getting a small sliver of information on the tension between French and English speakers in Canada along the way was a nice bonus too.
Review written January 2011
I'm late to the party with this one. A co-worker of mine named it as one of her favorite reads last year, and several people here on LibraryThing have sung its praises much more skillfully than I. All I can say is its one of those stories that gripped me from the first sentences. The blend of humor and seriousness, wonderfully vibrant characters and compelling mystery made this an incredibly difficult book to put down. I'm glad it's the first in a series, because I don't want to leave Three Pines behind. What else can I say? Still Life is definitely on my list of favorites for the month, and will probably make my list of top reads for the year.
Well, I'm certainly going to try again with the next in the series. And I'll keep trying till I get it right! (Just my excuse to read more of these delightful books.)
I appreciate the lack of graphic violence, blood and gore. This book proves it is not necessary for a good story. There were despicable characters and a tense, creepy scene at the end. Even idyllic settings need the elements of mystery and fear to keep those pages flying to reach the climax. Whew! Good stuff.
All-in-all, I'm looking forward to reading future Penny books.
A few years ago, I read the 5th book in this series and really enjoyed it. This one, not so much. Still Life is just too slow and ponderous for me, and the leaps from clues to deductions are just too great. I would not have read more in this series if I had started here.
I'll immediately hunt out the next in the series.
"He always felt a pang when looking at the hands of the newly dead, imagining all the objects and people those hands had held. The food, the faces, the doorknobs. All the gestures they'd made to signal delight or sorrow."
Still Life is a wonderful book and a good mystery. I'm happy to know there are more stories set in the village of Three Pines.
They are right! It is a wonderful book and I'm glad this is a series with many more to read.
The small town dynamics are wonderful. The characters are likeable. The images are delightfully written.
The pace is slow enough to feel as though you are sitting around a table having a cup of coffee with the cast of characters, yet fast enough that as you read your mind races along the twists and turns and, drawn to different paths, are never bored.
Well respected and liked, Jane Neal was 76 when she died from an arrow wound to her heart. Chief inspector of homicide Armand Gamache and his team are called to the sleepy village of Three Pines to investigate and solve the murder.
We get to know the town folk through their eyes and like a great piece of art, the layers unfold to shed light where there is darkness.
I was hooked right away and even though I wanted to know who committed the murder, I hated to see the book end.
Still Life, is in essence what its name tells you it is. It is painting of a small town made up of pieces that make up the still life. Within it is another painting as well. A palimpsest of art that tells a story is written within this book. You could look at this book in the same way you would look at a still life painting. It is made up with everyday objects that you would not give a second look at until they are grouped together. Louise Penny brings this story to you as a painter brings simple objects to your attention. The light, the composition, the relationships of the objects all come together to leave you in love with the entire portrait, not just the detective. Having it set in a small town just outside of Montreal lent it a tiny bit of foreignness to this stateside girl. All in all I really like this novel. The characters were complex yet believable, the quirkiness of the village was realistic and the evil not so horrid as to be unreadable. The villains were the criminals and the saviors and I fell in love with the little town of Three Pines.
As for the mystery/plot itself, there were plenty of red herrings to throw off a reader like me who doesnâ€™t read a lot of mysteries, but I wonder if a die-hard mystery fan wouldnâ€™t have it figured out well before the end. The story moved along nicely to a rather melodramatic conclusion (which felt out of keeping with the rest of this quiet, gentle read). A solid read, and one good enough to send me to the bookstore to look for the next in the series.