Still Life

by Louise Penny

Paperback, 2008

Call number





St. Martin's Minotaur (2008), Edition: 1st, 312 pages


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.

Media reviews

The beauty of Louise Penny’s auspicious debut novel, STILL LIFE, is that it’s composed entirely of grace notes, all related to the central mystery of who shot an arrow into the heart of Miss Jane Neal,...

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
It’s been many years since I read a cozy little mystery like Still Life by Louise Penny. Even more years since I read one that kept me guessing until almost the last page, like this one did. The problem with most cozy mysteries is that the characters have no depth and the coziness is all they have going for them. You figure out “who dunnit” in no time and spend the rest of the book watching the unveiling of the most obvious clues. This mystery is the exception to the rule.

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 you’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.

It’s Thanksgiving week and the unheard of has happened—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 you’re left going in another direction. I loved the fact that I couldn’t figure it out right away and a couple theories I had didn’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.
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LibraryThing member cyderry
This murder mystery was beautifully crafted leaving the reader completely baffle until the end. The descriptions of the area were so realistic that you wonder if there really is a village like Three Pines. The characters are well fleshed out and contribute tremendously to the storytelling. I listened to the audio version of this book and it was excellent. The narrator had a voice that resonated mystery while carrying off the accents with real panache. I definitely am gong to be looking for another in this series.… (more)
LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Elderly retired schoolteacher and amateur artist Jane Neal was well-liked by everyone in her small Quebecois village of Three Pines. Well, almost everyone. Early one fall morning, Jane Neal’s body was discovered in the woods, shot through the heart by an arrow. Most people assumed it was a horrible hunting accident, but Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec suspects murder. He, and his loyal team, move their base of operations to the small village to investigate, eventually uncovering many dark secrets under the seemingly idyllic façade of Three Pines…including the shocking truth about Jane Neal’s murder.

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 Penny’s well-written mystery series. Recommended for fans of both literary fiction and mysteries.
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
Just days after finally revealing one of her paintings and getting accepted into the local art exhibit, Jane is found dead in the forest. At first it looks like a tragic hunting accident, but when nobody steps forward, more and more signs seem to point towards murder. Inspecteur Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec is called to picturesque little Three Pines, the tiny village rocked by these horrible events, to try and solve the case. He brings with him his trusted team, and the rookie Nichol – who turns out to not quite be what he hoped for.

Flea’s picks for me take me out of my comfort zone this year. The village cozy is virtually virgin land for me. I’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 Penny’s rather large cast are memorable, and make this a place to revisit. One or two might be slightly over the top – 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 someone’s mind. There’s a bit too much of “He thought about the thing he knew he couldn’t say” 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.
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LibraryThing member WeeziesBooks
This was the first Louise Penny book that I have read. I truly enjoyed it. There were both mystery and a murder in the book, but it was a very light and full of strong characters with enjoyable interpersonal interactions and personalities. The weaving together the interests of local artists with local events such as the fair, added a warm and community feel to this novel. There was a bit of suspense combined with the unraveling of characters as the plot progressed. This was a very enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
For my last day off of the holiday season, I did next to nothing except sit in a chair with a dog on my lap, reading this excellent series debut mystery novel. For those of you who haven't already discovered Three Pines, Quebec, and the talents of Chief Inspector Gamache, may I recommend that you give this book a try. It's a traditional whodunit, dun very well indeed. A retired schoolteacher, the beloved Jane Neal, is found dead of a wound from a hunting arrow in the woods near the village. Could it have been an accident? Why was she out walking without her dog? The entire community comes under scrutiny, and naturally, many secrets are revealed, including why Miss Neal, in all these years, had never invited a single person into any room of her home except the kitchen. Just enough red herrings, and no ultimately dishonest false clues of the sort that make a reader cranky. Surprising bits of humor, and delightfully witty banter among some of the friends in the "cast".
Review written January 2011
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LibraryThing member nocto
One of those books that I don't know quite what to make of. It's a fairly old fashioned mystery that's been moved to a Quebec village, it moves at a fairly pedestrian pace and, I think, it consciously overdoes the cliche. None of which is bad, but it didn't quite add up to good for me. Halfway through I'd have given it an "I'll finish it but I won't read another"; having finished it I'll give it an "It's okay and I might read another, maybe".… (more)
LibraryThing member slkullberg
couldn't get into it, only read 10 pages
LibraryThing member bell7
"Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around. Miss Neal's was not a natural death, unless you're of the belief everything happens as it's supposed to" (1). So begins Still Life, a mystery set in the small Canadian town of Three Pines, Quebec, where everyone knows everyone and life goes by at a slightly slower pace. Jane Neal was a bit eccentric - not letting anyone beyond her kitchen, for example - but well-liked and about to enter a painting into an art show for the first time. When she is found dead, apparently the victim of a hunting accident, Inspector Armand Gamache is called in from the big city to piece together the events. He relies on intuition and good people skills in his investigation.

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.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
A fun murder mystery with a sprinkling of psychology... a cozy setting in a small Quebec village... a community struggling to live together, help each other, and maintain relationships... and a wonderful B&B with a fireplace that I want to visit! Louise Penny has really turned on the charm! Did I figure out who-dunnit? Yup. Halfway through the book. But I was wrong. Drat!

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.
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LibraryThing member m4marya
I love to solve puzzles, and figure out problems, but when it comes to mystery novels I love to be surprised. There is nothing as boring as finding out who the killer is on the page 4 three pages after the murder. I want the story to unfold for me, to take me so far away from the murder that I forget I am reading a murder mystery. Still Life does that. I became so caught up in the tale that when the clues were presented, the feeling was that they were a natural part of the tale, not boxes to be checked off as I made my way to the solution.
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.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, along with his team of investigators, is called to the scene of a suspicious death in the quaint village of Three Pines, near Montreal. When resident and artist Jane Neal is found dead on a walking trail near her home, locals initially assume her to be the victim of a tragic hunting accident. However, preliminary investigation by Gamache and his detectives reveal Ms. Neal was lured to the woods by and murdered by a skillful archer. As few strangers other than seasonal hunters pass through the remote village, the murderer is one who must live among the local population. None will be safe from the keen observances of Gamache and his team.

Still Life is the first of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series. Penny establishes herself as a well-written and engaging mystery writer; the drama here unfolded believably and with just the right number of red herrings to keep my reading chair warm! Her lead character, Gamache, is one I want to read more about: quiet, unassuming, capable, and charismatic. Recommended!
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LibraryThing member csayban
4.0 stars - Recommended

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec is summoned to the small town of Three Pines to investigate the death of 76-year-old Jane Neal. While everyone in town loved Jane and the locals are certain it is a hunting accident, Gamache senses there is more going on in the tiny hamlet than first meets the eye. But even Gamache’s own team disagrees about what has happened and who might be responsible for shattering the placid little village. It is going to take a lot of perseverance and quite a bit of help for Gamache to piece this mystery together.

“Clara shrugged and immediately knew her betrayal of Peter. In one easy movement she'd distanced herself from his bad behavior, even thought she herself was responsible for it. Just before everyone had arrived, she'd told Peter about her adventure with Gamache. Animated and excited she'd gabbled on about her box and the woods and the exhilarating climb up the ladder to the blind. But her wall of words hid from her a growing quietude. She failed to notice his silence, his distance, until it was too late and he'd retreated all the way to his icy island. She hated that place. From it he stood and stared, judged, and lobbed shards of sarcasm.”

Still Life is the first installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache crime series and I must say right from the outset, I love Louise Penny’s writing. There is a quiet, composed beauty to the way she uses language. She doesn’t write a story as much as she weaves it together with subtle hues. Written as a closed-room mystery, the best part of Still Life is how Penny begins with what appears to be a town full of people who love each other and everyone gets along. Slowly, but surely we find out that this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many simmering feuds and relationships that only require the slightest bit of kindling to bring to a boil.

In addition, Gamache is a subtle, highly nuanced lead character, in contract to the never-ending parade of hard-edged detectives in literature these days. Frankly, as someone whose brother is a detective, I must say that Gamache is the most realistic detective I’ve seen in fiction in a long time. Coupled with Penny’s writing, it fits so perfectly. The flow of the story telling in Still Life meshes well with the story itself. The plot is well done and the conclusion wraps up so well.

If you are looking for a wiz-bang thrill ride of a story, Still Life isn’t the book for you. However, if you are looking for a treatise on what happens to people and close relationships when an unexpected death takes place, you are in for a real treat. I completely enjoyed Still Life and am looking forward to continuing Penny’s series.
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LibraryThing member Ronrose1
After reading Louise Penny's latest novel, "The Brutal Telling", featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, I couldn't wait to return to the tiny village of Three Pines in the remote reaches of the province of Quebec. Still Life is the first in the Inspector Gamache series. The books can be read alone and stand up very well, but I think the full impact will best be felt if the series is read in order. The Inspector and his team are of course investigating a possible murder in this idealic spot. No one in the village, at first, seems to have any reason to kill the sweet, kind, elderly woman, who lies dead in the field with a hole through her heart. This of course means that everyone is a suspect. It is in revealing the lives and emotions hidden in this small community, that Ms Penny brings the village of Three Pines and indeed, Inspector Gamache and his team to life. Ms Penny has a gift for imbuing her characters with life, raising them from the pages and planting them forever in our minds.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
When 76 year-old artist Jane Neal is found dead in the woods surrounding the small town of Three Pines in the province of Québec, none of the locals even imagines it could have been anything but a hunting accident. But when Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team from Montreal become convinced her killing was deliberate and probably perpetrated by someone close to Jane, her friends band together and decide to have a close look at her house. Shortly before dying, Jane, who had until then never let them see her home beyond the kitchen, had invited all her friends into her inner sanctum for a special occasion. If these walls could talk, might they reveal who the killer is?

I wasn't sure I'd like this series set near my hometown. For one thing, I've read less than a handful of books set in my region, with which I've always had a love/hate relationship, and for another, I had the impression this mystery might be a little too much on the "cozy" side for my tastes. The story made for a pleasant listening experience with Ralph Cosham as the audiobook narrator, but it wasn't until I got to halfway through that I even became curious to find out who the killer was; the people and the place seemed a little too quaint and as a local, I wasn't thrilled to hear the inevitable references made about the friction between Anglo and Francophone cultures, something that has always bothered me as a local, but which needed to be broached at least in the first book in the series, as it's very much an ongoing issue in these parts. But after being assured the series only keeps getting better as it goes on, and then getting discouraged when it seemed the second book was nowhere to be found at the library, where it was listed under a different title, I realized I probably enjoyed the first book more than I realized after all. And since I really want to read Bury Your Dead, book #6, which seems to be an all around favourite without skipping ahead, I'm willing to settle back and try to read on with the fresh and less jaded perspective of a visitor to my home region.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
I had so much fun reading this book, and I felt connected to it. I would issue a mental opinion as I read, turn the page, and see a character say the very thing I had just determined. One character in particular irritated me so much I cringed whenever the name was on the page, others were so engaging I read faster to get to their parts of the book. I like to be led around by the author of a detective series, I like to be kept guessing all through the book, and in this one my list of suspects grew and changed and eventually narrowed to the wrong person - what fun it was to discover the murderer! I am happy to have found this series.… (more)
LibraryThing member TadAD
This was the most enjoyable start to a mystery series that I've encountered in a long time. It's well-plotted and I didn't guess the murderer at page 50. The tension between anglophone and francophone Quebec provides an unobtrusively interesting backdrop for the story. However, the real star of the book is the population of wonderful characters ranging from the Chief Inspector down to the minor inhabitants of the town.

I'll immediately hunt out the next in the series.
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LibraryThing member KAzevedo
The plot, which is well done and engaging, takes a back seat to the wonderful characterizations in this debut mystery. The village of Three Pines, in the province of Quebec, is remote and idyllic, and its inhabitants seem realistically quirky. There are many layers in the seemingly simple story; the relationships among the villagers, the desire of Gamache to be a mentor to a very flawed rookie, the need for acceptance and approval that we all share, and the hints of Gamache's past in the Surete are just a few. All the layers are held together with Penny's beautiful writing. Gamache is a student of human behavior and he learns the most by quietly observing and above all, listening, to everyone around him. Because of his methods, the villagers become very involved in solving the murder of the universally loved, former teacher, Jean Neal. I felt drawn in, wanting to know more about the people, liking most of them, and struggling with the understanding that one of them must be the killer. Gamache became increasingly likeable and intriguing; I wanted to know more about him too. He is thoughtful and compassionate, and we learn early on that he is always shocked anew at the sight of a violent death:

"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.
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LibraryThing member Mooose
Well written first novel. It was easy to picture her characters and I wanted to visit the cafe and sit by the fireplace. She wasn't afraid to have characters who, although not murderous, were unlikeable. May have been a little too easy to figure out who did the crime but, that happens. I would read the next one.
LibraryThing member Whisper1
This book was recommended by many, including Brenzi (Bonnie), Richard, Stasia, MusicMom41 (Carolyn), Cyderry (Cheli) and others.

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.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member JenSay
Typically I love a small town murder story. I love mysteries that are quaint and soft around the edges. This had all the necessities for me to love it. Somehow though, I struggled to engage with the text. I'm not sure if it is because of the use of french, which I don't speak. There doesn't seem to be enough of that to cause a problem, though. The characters were off to me. No one seemed very real. And the murder victim, I think this is the worst part for me, the murder victim just wasn't that sympathetic for me. As harsh as it sounds, I just didn't care that Jane died. I will certainly give this book away.… (more)
LibraryThing member Yllom
I really enjoyed this first book in the Three Pines series. This has been described as a literary, slower-paced mystery, and I agree. It has very strong characterization, and I look forward to getting to know the people of Three Pines better in future books. I also liked the Canadian setting of a small village in Quebec, and liked being able to understand the smattering of French in the book. Has some similarities to the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon, and to Christie's Poirot.… (more)
LibraryThing member linda-irvine
Astonishing understanding of human-ness through the entire series. Can't recommend strongly enough.
LibraryThing member phebj
I decided to read this book after seeing several positive reviews of it on LT. It's what is aptly called a "village cozy" murder mystery and is set in a small town called Three Pines near Montreal during the fall and early winter months of the year. The author does a fantastic job of making you feel like you're actually in Three Pines and getting to know the residents of the village along with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache who is investigating the murder at the center of this story. I loved some of the observations in this book--such as Gamache's belief that our lives are defined by our choices and the bookstore owner Myrna's ruminations on her past life as a psychologist treating people who led "still" lives "waiting for someone to save them." There was also a great line about Myrna feeling "if she could just get a good look at a person's bookcase and their grocery cart, she'd pretty much know who they were." The mystery in the story was somewhat secondary to me, although it was one I didn't figure out until the end. Mostly I loved the feel of this story--the setting and the characters. It seemed like a real slice of life. The only thing I would have liked better is if I had read it in the fall curled up in front of the fireplace.… (more)
LibraryThing member susanbeamon
This is the start of a mystery series. I actually read it for book club, this being the fun book for the year. Set in Quebec, it's fall and we are in a cute little village off the beaten track. It reads like a cozy, a sub-genre I like. The characters feel like real people, and the mystery is interesting. The solution feels slightly rushed when compared to the pace of the rest of the book, but not annoyingly so.… (more)




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