Monday, May 10, 2010

Still Life

by Louise Penny
New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2006.

"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 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 in the woods, 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.

So many people have recommended this book to me that I feel a little late to the party. It's one of those stories that I loved so much by the time I finished I felt tongue-tied, unable to tell you exactly why I liked it. 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. To try to classify the book is difficult, too - it feels like a cozy because of the characters, small town, and lack of descriptive violence, yet the detective is a member of the police force rather than an amateur. The philosophical discussions remind me a little of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, while Inspector Gamache's methods remind me a little of Maisie Dobbs, but this story doesn't really have the same feel as either.

What else can I say? I'm glad it's the first in a series, because I don't want to leave Three Pines behind. 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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