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Still Life‘s setting

When Jen described her idea for Detectives around the World, I was really excited. First, of course, because I love mysteries. But in the last few years I’ve really come to love books with a strong sense of place, regardless of the genre. Those books where the setting is so relevant that it’s basically a separate character? Yeah, I *love* those. So an idea that combined mysteries with a look at settings was right up my alley.

But when it came time for me to focus and write this post about the setting of Still Life by Louise Penny [link to my review], I’ve had a difficult time knowing what to write about.

I thought about writing this post strictly about each of these individually, at at least one point:

• Penny definitely used cozy food and beverages — from Thanksgiving dinners to the bistro — to help set the scene.

• All the talk about the weather (next storm coming in, cold front, hunting season) reminded me of rural small-towns I’ve lived in.

These are both valid, even important aspects of Still Life‘s setting. And I adored how Penny implemented these aspects to draw Three Pines. But these mostly, I think, define Three Pines as merely a rural small town. That’s part of it, but Penny gives us more.

• Penny’s use of language (particularly the smattering of French words thrown in) to bring us down to earth in Quebec, Canada.

I’m a lover of words. As part of that passion, I love languages. It always thrills me to read a book that has bits of another language here and there. And this book is no exception to that.

Now, not being fluent in French (or any language other than English, I’m ashamed to say), I mostly rely on the context to help me understand what’s going on, so I don’t have to run for Google Translate mid-sentence. But even if I can’t figure out each word, I love having those words there. I think for a book set in Quebec, this was an important thing for Penny to do, and I think she did it well.


Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life: A Mystery by Louise Penny (St. Martin’s, 2005), 320 pages

In the quiet burg of Three Pines, vandalism is pretty much as exciting as it gets. Selections have also been made for the next juried art show, but that’s about it. And then an old lady is found dead.

Still Life is the first book in a series; the sixth, Bury Your Dead, is due out in September 2010.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is pretty much the quintessential detective. I love how he teaches and trains, empowers. I adore his relationship with his wife (he tells her everything). I also love that he listens and observes, and how Penny portrays that. And I love that he’s flawed — he makes mistakes.

Other than practically falling in love with Gamache, I also love the other people we meet in this book, in particular the population of Three Pines (Clara and Peter, to mention two). I didn’t feel nearly as connected with Gamache’s staff — his trainee Agent Yvette Nichol in particular was annoying, but then, I think she was to the characters, too.

I also loved the place of prominence given to the visual arts. And I enjoyed getting a glimpse into small-town Quebec.

I look forward to reading the rest of this series! I was glad for the excuse to begin a series I’d been wanting to read for quite some time.

About the author
Louise Penny lives outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border with her husband, Michael. Prior to becoming a novelist, she worked as a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, specializing in hard news and current affairs. Her blog is http://louisepenny.blogspot.com.

Other reviews
Devourer of Books
Page 247
Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf
Jen’s Book Thoughts
My Random Acts of Reading

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I checked this book out from my local library.