The first of my R.I.P. reading assignments!
I hadn’t read Louise Penny before, though I know she is quite popular and, indeed, now appears on bestseller lists. I can’t really say why I haven’t read her before now, except that I had the impression that she was a little…Cosy.
While I love a book that gives me a real sense of place, all the way down to clothes and food and drink and books and art and cafes, I simply can’t read a Cosy. I know there are exceptions, really I do, but it has seemed to me that quite a few of the Cosies are simply poorly written. I apologize if I’m offending your favorite read—perhaps I haven’t read your favorites. I feel claustrophobic while reading a Cosy. There are usually fewer than ten main characters, which are not really fully developed, and the action takes place in even fewer locales.
(I say all this while thinking of books and authors that break those rules for me, such as Barbara Pym and Alexander McCall Smith.)
Anyway, I was a little apprehensive when starting the first in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Still Life. And yes, it was a little Cosy. It fit my above criticisms of number of characters and locales, and it took a while for each individual character to come to life. As a first book in a series, that is understandable though not commendable.
But I did stick with it–though there was much more discussion about the finer points of archery than I had any interest in–and the stories and characters developed into richer portraits. By the end of the book I was reasonably satisfied, had enjoyed myself, and looked forward to the next in the series.
A few random thoughts:
Setting: I did enjoy the setting quite a lot. Is this the only mystery series to take place in Quebec? The Quebecois issues and attitudes were interesting and added a nice and more dramatic aspect to the story. I do like a setting that has weather of some sort, and there was a lovely storm at the end. I am hoping that a bit more of Montreal will be included in other books in the series. The very small town of Three Pines is a bit Cosy-Claustrophobic, though.
Books and Food: As I said, food does contribute to a sense of place. Just as I am always curious to know what people (even fictional ones) are reading, I’m curious about what they are eating, especially if they are outside the U.S., or in a very ethnic area. The food issue was nicely handled, making me hungry and curious rather than feeling like I was being beaten over the head with Food Mystery! And Food Mystery Puns! There is a very nice and interesting bookshop that is thoughtful and not Cosy, with an interesting owner.
The Mystery: Not bad. I felt it was believable at the end, if only (PARTIAL SPOILER ALERT) because I’ve had experience with sociopaths, and they CAN fool just about everyone.
The Big Cheese: I did like and appreciate Chief Inspector Gamache, and am curious to see how his character develops. I also want to know more about his wife!
Also: I enjoyed the art aspect—three of the main characters are artists, and I especially appreciated the Big Reveal of the murder victim’s Big Secret Art Projects.
Overall grade: ****
Four out of five stars