One more in my favorite author series. This time I choose Louise Penny, author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, as my favorite police procedural mystery author. I dare anyone to read (or listen to) one of her thirteen books and not be hooked. Her writing is first rate and her incredible imagery stays with me.
The book “Still Life” introduces us to both the protagonist of the series, Armand Gamache, and the tiny, picturesque Quebec village of Three Pines which plays an ongoing and central role. Located in an isolated valley just north of the Vermont border, the village and its inhabitants are key to the continuing background story.
Gamache, a middle-aged, well-educated, right-brained man (who some judge as arrogant) is Chief Inspector of Homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec. His second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, serves as a counterpoint to Gamache. Beauvoir is left-brained and comes from a blue-collar background. He is often confused by his mentor’s more erudite and thoughtful manner. During the course of the series, both their bond and their lives are threatened by the ever expanding corruption within the Sûreté (the Quebec police organization).
Each of the murders—the retired schoolteacher felled by an arrow, the death of a prior at an isolated monastery, the carnage from an international drug cartel— stands alone. The thirteen well-constructed and complex murder mysteries will keep you guessing. However, the continually evolving backstories about the lives of the main characters are what keep me coming back for more.
I yearn to curl up in one of the soft armchairs in front of a warm fire at the bistro in Three Pines and join in the conversation and the laughter. Everyone in Three Pines has a story. Myrna, a Montreal psychologist burned out from years of other people’s drama, discovered the village by happenstance. She runs a bookstore. Olivier and Gabri, a gay couple from Montreal escaped the urban lifestyle to run the B&B and bistro which are the center of village life. Peter and Clara Morrow are artists – one career on the upswing another on the wane. And then there’s Ruth Zardo, the embittered old poet of national renown whose own story is revealed over time.
There are friendships, rivalries, and sometimes even murders in this seemingly idyllic place. Over time, Gamache and his family are woven into the tapestry of the small village. These are real people who I have come to know and care about and I miss them when they are gone. What more can I say?