Book Reviews

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

Having thoroughly enjoyed the new tv series Three Pines, I felt impelled to explore the books on which it is based. So I started with this, the first in the series. Thankfully, the case investigated in Still Life, is not touched upon in the first season of the series.

When Jane Neal’s body is discovered in the woods it is at first assumed that she has been killed in a hunting accident. However, it soon becomes apparent that Jane has been murdered. A universally liked and admired retired teacher, Jane is an unlikely murder victim. As Chief Inspector Armande Gamache begins to interview the residents of Three Pines, he soon discovers that there are many secrets hiding behind the white picket fences.

What makes this book special? Louise Penny lets us hear each character’s thoughts. We start to see through their eyes, and particularly through the eyes of Gamache. He’s patient (sometimes to a fault according to his second in command, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir) and gives everyone his full attention. He notices everything. He is kind and he is empathetic. As he first examines Jane’s body, we learn that ‘he always felt a pang when looking at the hands of the newly dead, imagining all the objects and people those hands had held. The food, the faces, the doorknobs. All the gesture they’d made to signal delight or sorrow. And the final gesture, surely, to ward off the blow that would kill. The most poignant were the hands of young people who would never absently brush a lock of gray hair from their own eyes’.

Penny makes the reader slow down, and keep pace with Gamache’s quiet and calm approach to the investigation. He’s a thinker, and we are privy to his many ruminations. I found this meditation on death particularly moving:

Normally, death came at night, taking a person in their sleep, stopping their heart or tickling them awake, leading them to the bathroom with a splitting headache before pouncing and flooding their brain with blood. It waits in alleys and metro stops. After the sun goes down plugs are pulled by white-clad guardians and death is invited into an antiseptic room.

Many of the characters are basically good people, with whom the reader can easily identify. We can understand their reactions. After Inspector Beauvoir interviews a particularly unpleasant suspect, he needed to cleanse himself; he ‘wanted to call his wife and tell her how much he loved her, and then tell her what he believed in, and his fears and hopes and disappointments. To talk about something real and meaningful.’ But when he did talk with her, he found ‘the words got caught somewhere south of his throat. Instead he told her the weather had cleared, and she told him about the movie she’s rented.’ I loved the honestly of this moment.

Everyone is under suspicion, and as Hurricane Kyla heads towards Three Pines, the book speeds towards the unexpected reveal. I certainly didn’t see it coming, but it makes sense and brings the book to a satisfying conclusion.

I believe there are now eighteen books in the Gamache series, and I’m excited to dive into them all! Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gaby Meares
Murder on a Monday Reading Group

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Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

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