Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Still Life

Still Life by Louise Penny
4 stars

Reasons for reading: 2007 Anthony Award for Best First Novel for Book Awards Challenge

Description (from Booklist): "The residents of a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines are shocked when the body of Miss Jane Neal is found in the woods. Miss Neal, the village's retired schoolteacher and a talented amateur artist, has been a good friend to most of the townsfolk, so her loss is keenly felt. At first, her death appears to be a tragic accident--it's deer-hunting season, and it looks a stray hunter's arrow killed her. But some folks are suspicious, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the [Sûreté du Québec] is called in to investigate. Accompanying Gamache are his loyal assistant Beauvoir and Yvette Nichol, a new addition to Gamache's team. The trio soon finds that the seemingly peaceful, friendly village hides dark secrets. The truth is both bizarre and shocking, even to the jaded Gamache and his team."

First line: "Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday."

My thoughts: This was a very well-written and enjoyable book. Penny brings the village to life with beautiful descriptions (for example, a lane lined with autumn-coloured trees is described as a "Tiffany tunnel") and her characters, especially Gamache, really come to life. Gamache is wise, kind, stern, sharp, funny, and seems to have demons of his own. Beauvoir is his very loyal lieutenant and Nichol is shockingly unable to accept any criticism or see her own mistakes. The memorable townsfolk include a famous, award-winning poet hidden under the guise of an incredibly surly old woman, a charming gay couple who run the local cafe/b&b/antique store, a pair of artists who seem very different (she scatty and messy, he meticulous) but who love each other very much, Jane's shallow, materialistic niece and her horrid husband and son, whose last name is appropriately Malenfant ("bad child").

The mystery has lots of false leads and even up to the last whodunnit scene, you get misdirected. Penny has done a lot of research on archery and hunting. It really was a mystery as to why anyone would want the spinster schoolteacher dead. Elements of both longtime friendships and longtime bitterness are woven through the story. The bilingualism and discussions of Canadian culture (both English and French) were interesting additions and were also integrated nicely into the story - not always something I've come across in Canadian fiction.

I would definitely like to read more about Gamache and the townsfolk of Three Pines.


Charlotte said...

I love this book too! But I don't understand the expression "Tiffany tunnel". What do you think the author means?

Kyczy Hawk said...

I loved this book - several take away quotes and images to go in my diary of interesting phrases. I believe that Tiffany tunnel is the expression to mean the dappled lights that comes between the leaves of trees creating a stained glass effect of light and dark on the ground and those who pass beneath the limbs.