Louise Penny

Books: Mystery

Chief Inspector Gamache: Still Life (2005)

Chief Inspector Gamache

Still Life (2005) still-life

Chief Inspector Gamache of Montreal Quebec has been called to the small village of Three Pines to investigate the death of Jane Neal–a retired school teacher found lying dead on the ground with a hole through her heart.

Gamache is a kind man, which is a skill that serves him well in interviews, but makes things harder when dealing with murder.

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 gestures 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.

The story starts out with Jane’s body, and then jumps back in time, to right before the murder, and we see Jane in life, edging towards her death, with no signs of anything unusual. It was an interesting start, but I actually liked the arrangement. We can see the murder victim as she was in life, but her death doesn’t come as a horrible surprise. We know it’s coming, even if those around her do not, and it somehow makes it easier, and less shocking.

Yes, I know that when you read a murder mystery, you are expecting someone to turn up dead, but it’s always harder somehow, if you get to know a character and then they are killed.

I do believe this is the first murder mystery I’ve ever read set in Canada. Which seems strange, as Canada isn’t that far away, and we do (for the most part) share a common language. Although in this book the fissures between Quebec and the rest of Canada are seen, as are the difference between the French and English speaking residents.

Also interesting was the introduction of Agent Nichol, a woman who wants very much to join the investigation and the detective force. She played a strange part in the story, a decisive figure whom you expect to turn out one way, but who instead follows an unexpected path (and causes problems for the investigation). I can’t think of another story where I’ve seen a trainee/rookie behave in such a manner. That doesn’t mean it isn’t realistic, but it was very odd.

Also odd, were the references to a past case that seems to have been a major turning point for the characters. Strange, because this is the first book in the series, and in fact the first book by the author. Normally when you are given references to past cases or major events, they seem almost an enticement to read older books in a series. Here, it was an odd feeling, that I was missing something, but there was no way of going back to discover what it was.

Regardless, I enjoyed the story and would like to spend more time with Gamache.

Published by Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10