The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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December 13, 2010

The Brutal Telling and Still Life

Olivier exhaled deeply. He look drained. ‘I think I’m still stunned. Who was he? Do you know?’

‘No,’ said Beauvoir. ‘Did anyone report a stranger in the area?’

‘Report?’ said Olivier. ‘To whom?’

All three turned perplexed eyes on Beauvoir. The Inspector had forgotten that Three Pines had no police force, no traffic lights, no sidewalks, no mayor. The volunteer fire department was run by that demented old poet, Ruth Zardo, and most would rather perish in the flames than call her.

The place didn’t even have crime. Except murder. The only criminal thing that ever happened in this village was the worst possible crime.

And here they were with yet another body. At least the rest had had names. This one seemed to have dropped from the sky, and fallen on his head.
Since (as I've said before) I love to read series mysteries, it's always a treat to find a new set, especially one where there's a long list of books to catch up on.  I vaguely remember seeing or reading about Louise Penny's books about when the first one was published, and not being especially interested.  Part of me is glad about that, because I'm getting so much pleasure from rediscovering them now.

Three Pines is a village about an hour from Montreal, the kind of place where people drive by and immediately decide to give up their city lives and move there.  (Even Agent Lacoste imagines uprooting her family and getting a job in the bookstore.)  For me, there was something immediately appealing about the characters -- both the townspeople in Three Pines and the detectives from the the Sûreté du Québec (I looked it up -- the provincial police force). That odd phenomenon that I like so much -- the cozy comfort of a good murder mystery -- is present in droves in this book, which is full of fireplaces and food and art gallery openings and warm friendships, even by now between the detectives and the people they must investigate.

But Gamache knew that Olivier had just lied. He meant the bistro, that was obvious. People lied all the time in murder investigations. If the first victim of war was the truth, some of the first victims of a murder investigation were people’s lies. They lies they told themselves, the lies they told each other. The little lies that allowed them to get out of bed on cold, dark mornings. Gamache and his team hunted the lies down and exposed them. Until all the small tales told to ease everyday lives disappeared. And people were left naked. The trick was distinguishing the important fibs from the rest. This one appeared tiny. In which case, why bother lying at all?

Gabri approached bearing a tray with four steaming plates. Within minutes, they were sitting around the fireplace eating fettuccine with shrimp and scallops sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Fresh bread was produced and glasses of dry white wine poured. As they ate they talked about the Labor Day long weekend, about the chestnut trees and conkers. About kids returning to school and the nights drawing in. The bistro was empty, except for them. But it seemed crowded to the Chief Inspector. With the lies they’d been told, and the lies being manufactured and waiting.
The first book I found and read was The Brutal Telling, the fourth in the series. This one starts with a dark-of-night meeting between a hermit and a man named Olivier, and continues when the villagers find a dead body on the floor of Olivier's bistro. As Chief Inspector Gamache and his team investigate, they find secrets in a cabin deep in the woods and a dark story about one of the villagers.

As soon as I read this one, I wanted to go back to the beginning, and I did, to read Still Life.  In this one, Gamache and his team are called to Three Pines, a place Gamache can't even find on his map, on Thanksgiving weekend when a beloved retired schoolteacher is found dead in the woods, killed with a bow and arrow. There's been some interesting discussion about whether it's best to read a mystery series in order; that's my usual preference, and I can see why.  Part of me liked the experience of knowing the characters and going back to see how they're introduced, and part of me followed the investigation in this first story thinking 'It's going to be so-and-so.  No, wait, it can't be!  I know what happens later.'  

But the way the author revealed the identity of the murderer was very well done, and knowing who it probably couldn't be didn't kill the suspense or detract from my enjoyment of Still Life (and that's what reading these books is...sheer, simple, unalloyed enjoyment).   There are some elements in both books that are a little over the top, and there might be some gaps in the storytelling (not sure I understand about Timmer and the snakes), but ca va.  The writing is strong, the characters are quirky but somehow real (the clueless Agent Nichol was wonderful) and as in The Brutal Telling, some of the clues revolve around a fascinating work of art, described in intricate detail.  I've already borrowed two more of the books -- the second one, which takes place at Christmas, and the newest one, which I'll probably go to next because there was a long wait for it at the library. There were 168 people who knew something I didn't!

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Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I just started Bury Your Dead last night and I cannot put it down!

Carolyn said...

Oh I love these books, although I've only read the first three. Louise Penny is so cosy and I love that they're set in Canada, even if not my home province. Glad you've discovered them!

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