Still Life (Penny)

Still Life (Inspector Gamache series, 1)
Louise Penny, 2006
St. Martin's Press
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312948559


Summary
Winner, "New Blood" Dagger; Arthur Ellis; Barry; Anthony; and Dilys Awards.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

With this award-winning first novel, Louise Penny introduces an engaging hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces—and this series—with power, ingenuity, and charm. (From the publisher.)

See all our Reading Guides for Chief Inspector Gamache novels by Louise Penny.



Author Bio
Birth—1958
Where—Toronto, Canada
Education—B.A, Ryerson University
Awards—Agatha Award (4 times) "New Blood" Dagger Award;
   Arthur Ellis Award; Barry Award, Anthony Award; Dilys Award.
Currently—lives in Knowlton, Canada (outside of Montreal)


In her words
I live outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border. I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born in Toronto in 1958 and became a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, specializing in hard news and current affairs. My first job was in Toronto and then moved to Thunder Bay at the far tip of Lake Superior, in Ontario. It was a great place to learn the art and craft of radio and interviewing, and listening. That was the key. A good interviewer rarely speaks, she listens. Closely and carefully. I think the same is true of writers.

From Thunder Bay I moved to Winnipeg to produce documentaries and host the CBC afternoon show. It was a hugely creative time with amazingly creative people. But I decided I needed to host a morning show, and so accepted a job in Quebec City. The advantage of a morning show is that it has the largest audience, the disadvantage is having to rise at 4am.

But Quebec City offered other advantages that far outweighed the ungodly hour. It's staggeringly beautiful and almost totally French and I wanted to learn. Within weeks I'd called Quebecers "good pumpkins", ordered flaming mice in a restaurant, for dessert naturally, and asked a taxi driver to "take me to the war, please." He turned around and asked "Which war exactly, Madame?" Fortunately elegant and venerable Quebec City has a very tolerant and gentle nature and simply smiled at me.

From there the job took me to Montreal, where I ended my career on CBC Radio's noon programme.

In my mid-thirties the most remarkable thing happened. I fell in love with Michael, the head of hematology at the Montreal Children's Hospital. He'd go on to hold the first named chair in pediatric hematology in Canada, something I take full credit for, out of his hearing.

It's an amazing and blessed thing to find love later in life. It was my first marriage and his second. He'd lost his first wife to cancer a few years earlier and that had just about killed him. Sad and grieving we met and began a gentle and tentative courtship, both of us slightly fearful, but overcome with the rightness of it. And overcome with gratitude that this should happen to us and deeply grateful to the family and friends who supported us.

Fifteen years later we live in an old United Empire Loyalist brick home in the country, surrounded by maple woods and mountains and smelly dogs.

Since I was a child I've dreamed of writing and now I am. Beyond my wildest dreams (and I can dream pretty wild) the Chief Inspector Gamache books have found a world-wide audience, won awards and ended up on bestseller lists including the New York Times. Even more satisfying, I have found a group of friends in the writing community. Other authors, booksellers, readers—who have become important parts of our lives. I thought writing might provide me with an income—I had no idea the real riches were more precious but less substantial. Friendships.

There are times when I'm in tears writing. Not because I'm so moved by my own writing, but out of gratitude that I get to do this. In my life as a journalist I covered deaths and accidents and horrible events, as well as the quieter disasters of despair and poverty. Now, every morning I go to my office, put the coffee on, fire up the computer and visit my imaginary friends, Gamache and Beauvoir and Clara and Peter. What a privilege it is to write. I hope you enjoy reading the books as much as I enjoy writing them.

Chief Inspector Gamache was inspired by a number of people, and one main inspiration was this man holding a copy of En plein coeur. Jean Gamache, a tailor in Granby. He looks slightly as I picture Gamache, but mostly it was his courtesy and dignity and kind eyes that really caught my imagination. What a pleasure to be able to give him a copy of En plein coeur! (From the author's website with permission.)



Book Reviews
Like her neighbors in the picturesque Canadian village of Three Pines, the dear old thing had hidden depths, courtesy of an author whose deceptively simple style masks the complex patterns of a well-devised plot—rather like the subtle designs of Jane’s "primitive" pictures. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, who is as bemused as we are by life in Three Pines, has the wit and insight to look well beyond its idyllic surface.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times


It’s hard to decide what provides the most pleasure in this enjoyable book: Gamache, a shrewd and kindly man constantly surprised by homicide; the village, which sounds at first like an ideal place to escape from civilization; or the clever and carefully constructed plot.
Chicago Tribune


(Starred review.) Canadian Penny's terrific first novel, which was the runner-up for the CWA's Debut Dagger Award in 2004, introduces Armand Gamache of the Sorete du Quebec. When the body of Jane Neal, a middle-aged artist, is found near a woodland trail used by deer hunters outside the village of Three Pines, it appears she's the victim of a hunting accident. Summoned to the scene, Gamache, an appealingly competent senior homicide investigator, soon determines that the woman was most likely murdered. Like a virtuoso, Penny plays a complex variation on the theme of the clue hidden in plain sight. She deftly uses the bilingual, bicultural aspect of Quebecois life as well as arcane aspects of archery and art to deepen her narrative. Memorable characters include Jane; Jane's shallow niece, Yolande; and a delightful gay couple, Olivier and Gabri. Filled with unexpected insights, this winning traditional mystery sets a solid foundation for future entries in the series.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) This is a real gem of a book that slowly draws the reader into a beautifully told, lyrically written story of love, life, friendship, and tragedy. And it's a pretty darn good mystery too. This belongs in the same league with such other outstanding Canadian mysteries as Eric Wright's Charlie Salter series. —Emily Melton
Booklist


Cerebral, wise and compassionate, Gamache is destined for stardom. Don’t miss this stellar debut.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. At the beginning of Still Life, we are told that “violent death still surprised” Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Why is that odd for a homicide detective, and how does it influence his work? What are his strengths and his weaknesses?

2. The village of Three Pines is not on any map, and when Gamache and Agent Nicole first arrive there, they see “the inevitable paradox. An old stone mill sat beside a pond, the mid morning sun warming its fieldstones. Around it the maples and birches and wild cherry trees held their fragile leaves, like thousands of happy hands waving to them on arrival. And police cars. The snakes in Eden.” Can you find other echoes of Paradise in Three Pines, and what role do snakes—real or metaphorical—play there?

3. There are three main couples in the book: Clara and Peter, Olivier and Gabri, and Gamache and Reine-Marie. How would you characterize each of these relationships?

4. Gamache says “I’ve never met anyone uniformly kind and good,” yet no one has anything bad to say about Jane—except regarding her art. What is your impression of that art? How do you understand the game Jane used to play with Yolande and the Queen of Hearts?

5. When the charred arrowhead is found in his home, it is said that Matthew Croft “had finally been hurt beyond poetry.” How does poetry help him and other characters in this novel? Does it ever have the power to hurt? What do you think of Timmer Hadley’s idea that “there’s something about Ruth Zardo, something bitter, that resents happiness in others, and needs to ruin it. That’s probably what makes her a great poet, she knows what it is to suffer.”

6. Consider Gamache’s advice to Nichol: “Life is choice. All day, everyday. Who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it.And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful.” Similarly, Myrna stopped practicing psychology because she lost patience with people who lead “still” lives, “waiting for someone to save them….The fault lies with us, and only us. It’s not fate, not genetics, not bad luck, and it’s definitely not Mom and Dad. Ultimately it’s us and our choices.” How do their choices affect the principal characters in the novel? Do any of their choices remind you of ones you have made in your own life?

7. There’s a huge clue to the murder early in the book, when Jane gives Ben a meaningful look and then quotes from W. H. Auden: “Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.” Why is it so easy to overlook that clue at the time, and what impact does it have when it’s quoted again in the last chapter?

8. Who do you think Gamache has in mind when he tells Gabri and Olivier: “You’re not the types to do murder. I wish I could say the same for everyone here.”

9. Clara has “very specific tastes” in murder mysteries: “Most of them were British and all were of the village cozy variety.” Do you see Still Life as a typical “cozy”? Why or why not?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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