“The corridor was filled with rainbows. Giddy prisms. Bouncing off the hard stone walls. Pooling on the slate floors. They shifted and merged and separated, as though alive. The Chief Inspector knew his mouth had dropped open, but he didn’t care. He’d never, in a life of seeing many astonishing things, seen anything quite like this. It was like walking into joy.”
No outsiders are ever admitted to a remote monastery deep in the Quebec wilderness where two dozen cloistered monks are devoted to singing ancient chants so profound, they are referred to as “the beautiful mystery.” However, when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Quebec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence and discord in harmony. Penny based the novel on a real monastery called Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. This is the first time the murder mystery hasn’t been set wholly in the town of Three Pines and I found that a refreshing break. Nevertheless, the town has become almost a character in itself, and I will look forward to getting back there when I go on to How the Light Gets In, also because the end is shocking and heartbreaking and I have to find out what happens next!
As always, the solving of the case is only one aspect of the novel. There is also the ongoing tension between the detectives on the case, stemming back to a police raid gone wrong, and further escalating corruption within the Sûreté itself. Politics within the police force threatens to undermine Gamache’s authority and evil forces threaten his reputation. Gamache remains steadfast in his determination to keep his head down and focus on his work, but it’s getting harder, and it’s getting personal. For this reason it is imperative that the books in this series be read in order. I do feel as the series progresses, the books are getting better and Penny is really finding her stride. This one was a beautifully written mystery indeed!
“While every artist wakes up believing this is the day his genius will be discovered, every dealer wakes up believing this is the day he’ll discover genius.”
As I get deeper into this series, reading them in order, I can clearly see development in Penny’s writing. It’s getting better and better. The police detectives, the residents of Three Pines, and Gamache himself are pleasantly familiar, but never stagnant or stuck in their ways. There are delicious mysteries surrounding each of them and in every instalment Penny teases out more of their personal journeys in addition to the murder mystery at hand.
The dead body of a woman is discovered in a back garden in Three Pines after a party celebrating Clara Morrow’s first art exhibition. “There is strong shadow where there is much light.” Penny’s beautiful writing is layered with themes of light and dark, things hidden and revealed…or is it just a trick of the light? The images refer to artistic talent in a fickle art world, but also of course, to humanity. Penny has a sense of humour. An important piece of evidence at the crime scene is an AA sobriety chip/disc with both the serenity prayer and a figure of a camel engraved upon it. Why a camel? Well, perhaps if a camel can go for 24 hours without a drink, so can you? And I loved the classic Agatha Christie ending, also deliciously tongue-in-cheek–all of the suspects gathered in the same room during a thunder storm, with the lights threatening to flicker out at any moment, while Gamache reveals the murderer… 🙂
Some people call this a ‘cozy’ mystery series, with little graphic violence or offensiveness, with the exception of a potty mouth senior in the village called Ruth. This quote by Patrick Anderson in Washington Post review says it all, “If you’re looking for a well-written mystery that highlights an amusing village, takes a nasty look at the art world and doesn’t contain any cannibalism, beheadings or sexual perversion, you could do a lot worse than Penny’s ‘A Trick of the Light.'”
Where there is love there is courage,
where there is courage there is peace,
where there is peace there is God.
And when you have God, you have everything.
See, this quote demonstrates why I love Louise Penny mysteries. They are so much more than a curiosity about who was the murderer and why. There is thoughtfulness, depth of character, beauty of place, appreciation of culture, gentle humour, and lyrical prose. Three Pines has become a retreat of sorts to me, a place to escape to that is familiar when I’ve just traveled through a number of other books. Of course, there is always a gruesome murder to contend with once there, but again, Penny handles that deftly and compassionately. In this instalment I loved Inspector Gamache’s trip to Haida Gwaii and there was so much detailed description of the food on offer in Gabri and Olivier’s bistro, that it made my mouth water!!
I am reading the Inspector Gamache series in order. This instalment is about a hermit who is found dead in Olivier’s bistro. But because I had stepped out of my reading order to read the sixth instalment for a book club assignment, I actually knew who the murderer was while reading the book, which was fun. And perhaps it was merciful too. This book ends on a cliffhanger for fans of Three Pines, and happily I didn’t have to go through that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting to read them out of order, I just think that you should follow #5 with #6 as quickly as you can, because they really go together. Oh, and by the way, this title holds a clue to who the killer is, especially if you google ‘brutal telling and Emily Carr’ or pay attention when the character of Clara Morrow describes the phrase, or watch this youtube of Penny herself. 🙂
Louise Penny’s books are a cut above. They are well written and thoughtful as well as compelling and mysterious. And as with any series, getting to know the usual cast of characters and seeing a deepening in their development over time, is part of the pleasure. For me the series is getting better and better. I also loved the setting of this fourth Armand Gamache mystery which is called A Rule Against Murder in the US. The usual setting for Penny’s novels, the little quaint town of Three Pines, is not forgotten even though in this one it only makes a guest appearance. The fictional town of Three Pines is practically a character itself in the series by now.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are spending an anniversary holiday at a beautiful logged lodge overlooking a lake in the magnificent Canadian wilderness. There is a wealthy dysfunctional family staying there as well, in fact some of the family members are a little annoyed when they discover that they don’t have the whole place to themselves, and another couple is staying there. Little do they know that the man in the back bedroom is not the housekeeper’s husband, but the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec and that a murder is about to happen.
Louise Penny says she based the character of Armand Gamache on her husband Michael without even realising it. The manor in this novel was loosely based on a real manor (Manoir Hovey Resort) where Louise and Michael celebrated their own wedding.
Well, folks, we’ve just made it through the cruellest month, safely into May…yes, the cruel one is April, because anything can happen weather-wise, and sweet young plants that have just bravely burst through the soil often get snuffed out. In Three Pines it’s in any month, really that people get snuffed out, and regularly are. In this one someone dies of fright at a séance at the Old Hadley House! As always, Penny delivers a cozy, comfy, and cruel tale in this third instalment, and I think the series is getting better as it goes along.
Louise Penny is a literary mystery writer, although I don’t know what I exactly mean by that–some mysteries are fun but just not that well written, while others seem to be a cut above. I guess it’s because her turn of phrase is beautiful, the book is not merely plot driven, and there is some existential wisdom to be learned along the way. Gamache continues to be his same elegant, kind, and unflappable self, especially in this one because he himself is under attack. There is a cruel undercover plan to discredit and unseat him from the Surété du Québec so he will have to face some of his own ghosts as well.
“Not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”
My plan was to read the Inspector Gamache crime series in order but I had to jump to #6 instead of #3 because of a book club assignment. I don’t think it really matters to read them out of order. The others will just feel like flashbacks when I get to them. I loved the Agatha Christie style living room assembly at the end, actually there are two in this novel running simultaneously. All of the suspects are gathered in one room together, one of them is the culprit and they are about to discover who it is. Cue the scary music.
As always it was fun to enjoy the benefits of a series–knowing the characters and the setting before you even start! Penny writes literary crime, this one also eloquently dealing with themes of tragic guilt, learning to live with your history, and finding a way to heal through the grief–to ‘bury your dead.’ Not sure if burying your dead emotionally is possible and perhaps even undesirable, but at any rate that is where the title comes from. This instalment is set in Quebec City as well as Three Pines, and the old city gave the novel a wonderful historically atmospheric feel. And there were some mouth watering descriptions of food–the Inspector likes his flaky croissants and bowl of coffee! Fun fact: if you spend time in Quebec City and have read this book, you should take advantage of the Bury Your Dead Tour. Yes, there really is such a thing! Apparently it visits the places where the novel took place. My neighbour is going on the tour this week, and I am wondering how she finds it!
I loved Gamache’s four sentences that lead to wisdom:
I am sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.
Our world might be a better place if we all used these words more often.
Louise Penny’s mystery series set in the tiny Quebec village of Three Pines, features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This is the second instalment and though it is not essential to read the books in order, I am doing that, because it has been recommended. The characters do develop throughout the series and being able to follow that is as entertaining as solving the murder mysteries. I enjoyed this one more that the first (Still Life), only because I was returning to this village and to these characters and that familiarity added pleasure to the reading for me. Penny’s website is very beautifully done, has some interesting information about the inspiration for the village and the inspector, and even has a FAQ section. Maybe you love FAQ sections as much as I do!
It’s early days for me with this series. I’m looking forward to more. I’ve heard the series just gets better and better and has met with huge worldwide success. I will share this quote from the author because it demonstrates how her mysteries are a literary cut above in my opinion. As she says herself in the candid interview I’ve included below with CBCs Wendy Mesley, the books are not about murder, they have murder in them.
“My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choice. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love. If you take only one thing away form any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.”
Finally getting around to this popular Canadian series that has worldwide recognition. What a great introduction to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the residents of Three Pines. Watching him enter the small town and sift through the dark secrets and murder clues, was just the thing for these cold January evenings. Crime fiction often comes in series, and getting to know the detective who solves the mysteries is a big part of the attraction. There’s always lots of details floating about with the reader unsure about which facts and theories are important and which are not, but in the end it doesn’t really matter, because you can depend on the trusty Inspector to sort it all out in the end. There’s a grand comfort in that.
Louise Penny offers a nice balance of action and reflection, making this feel ‘more than’ the usual whodunit. Her work has been paralleled with British whodunits which tend to have (according to wiki) “murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book.” Loved the Canadian setting outside of Montreal (just like Kathy Reichs’ Bones series; if you liked that, you’ll love this) and looking forward to more from this author–since I bought the three book starter set at Costco, the next two instalments are likely imminent! Judging by the reviews, future instalments keep getting better and better. And after all, it’s still going to be cold and dark for awhile yet…
There is a movie based on Still Life. It’s available on youtube.