Sunday, October 22

Still Life by Louise Penny

Review by Gloria Feit
 
The murder in Still Life is related in the very first sentence of this nonetheless gentle debut novel by Louise Penny.  The body of Jane Neal is discovered in the woods outside the village of Three Pines, just south of Montreal, and the case is assigned to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec.  Assisting him is young Yvette Nichol, working her first case since achieving her dream of working at the Surete.
 
'Gentle' is also an apt description of the victim, and Inspector Gamache has a serious challenge in attempting to discover 'whodunit.'  Jane was a local artist, albeit one whose work she had never permitted anyone to see, with the exception of one called Fair Day, depicting the closing parade of the local county fair which she has, for the first time, entered into the competition for the village Art show.  Her entry provokes strong reactions, many of them negative, but the piece had been accepted.  Two days later she is murdered, in what at first appears to have been a hunting accident, as hunting season had just begun, but no weapon is found and no one comes forward to claim responsibility.  If it is indeed murder the culprit, it would appear, must be one of the residents of the small village where Jane had lived for nearly all of her 76 years.  Interestingly, the weapon appears to have been an old-fashioned wooden bow and arrow.  The Inspector muses: 'Looking around he realized how much he liked this place and these people.   Too bad one of them was a murderer," and again, "No one was who they seemed.  Everyone was more.  And one person in this room as very much more."
 
The novel follows the inexorable progress of the investigation; as the author says, referring to Gamache, "unhurried, unperturbed, unstoppable."  The setting is beautiful and beautifully brought to life.  The writing, at times, seemed to this reader lacking, to wit: "She knew she had a matter of minutes, maybe moments."   [And the difference between those two words--?]   And "He also used …, which were different to Jane's."    [Different to?]  But it was also at times captivating, e.g., "His magical thinking allowed him to be surprised that when such a good soul dies it isn't remarked. The bells of the church didn't set themselves off.  The mice and deer didn't cry out.  The earth didn't shudder.  If he were God, it would have.  Instead, the line in the official report would read, 'her neighbors noticed nothing.'"   The characters are interesting, especially young Ms. Nichol, full of ambition and conflict as to proper professional behavior.  The pace of the book, casual till near the book's conclusion, picks up quite a bit at that point until the identity of the murderer is revealed.  An enjoyable read.

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