Saturday, March 1, 2008

Still Life by Louise Penny

I read about this one on a number of blogs and since I like mysteries I decided to use it for the Canadian Reading Challenge . It was the winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.

The story is set in the small Quebec town of Three Pines where a woman has been murdered on Thanksgiving weekend. We meet a variety of suspects including a renowned but strange poet, a married couple who are struggling artists, and the gay couple who run the local B & B. Chief Inspector Gamache is sent to investigate the murder. The novel alternated between the investigation and interweaving back stories for the suspects and Gamache.

STRENGTHS OF STILL LIFE: Penny created a very likable and interesting world in Three Pines. The characters all had a sense of depth and it was clear that many of them had some sort of trauma in the background that led them to this small town. Penny created a group of people that had many different stories to tell. I also liked how she weaved the elements of art and mystery together. Jane, the victim, painted a piece that was the key to solving the mystery. I almost wish Penny had given us a version of the painting. I wonder if my imagination created the same work of art as hers. It was a good mystery with a number of twists. I really didn't know who the murderer was until it was revealed. Penny did a good job of leading me in another direction. I like stories that come together well, but that aren't so totally obvious.

WEAKNESSES OF STILL LIFE: There is a subplot where the inspector, Gamache, mentors a young police woman, somewhat unsuccessfully. At 400 pages, the book could have easily lost this subplot which didn't seem to advance the main story. For some people, the number of characters introduced might be a problem. Penny was trying to immediately populate her town, and it was a bit confusing at times.

Overall, I'd give this four stars. I'm definitely interested in reading the other books in this series. I'd be interested in hearing other people's opinions. Just a disclaimer, I have a tough time writing mystery reviews because I don't want to give anything away so I apologize if this one seemed too vague.


Framed said...

Thanks for your review. I'll keep this in mind for the next Canadian Challenge

cj said...

I have the same problem. It's a fine line between reviewing and spoiling. For me, I'd rather err on the side of caution and not ruin the story for anyone else. Your review is still enough to get my interest. Thanks


Tara said...

Good review. My grandma gave me this book last week and it's been sitting on my shelf ... not sure if I wanted to read it. But I think I'll give it a shot.

And I totally agree with you about reviewing mystery books - I'm almost always at a loss for words when I'm trying to describe the plot without giving everything away or repeating what the back of the book says!!!

Cath said...

I liked this one quite a lot too. Bags of atmosphere and I didn't guess what was going on or who committed the murder. I plan to read the other two in the series sometime soon.

BookGal said...

cath - I already have the other two on my list to be mooched.

framed - I didn't do as well as I hoped on the Challenge but there are lots more Canadians I want to read.

Tara and CJ - With mysteries, I try to write reviews that engage people who've read the book and don't give too much away to people who want to read the book.