When it was my brother Jim's turn to select a book, I was not surprised that he chose Still Life, Louise Penny's introduction to her popular award winning mystery series and a book I had already read. Penny is a favorite author of both of us. I was a bit concerned that our sister Mary would enjoy it, however, as she rarely reads mystery...not uncommon, though to an avid mystery reader like myself, a concern whenever I recommend one.
My concern was short lived, however, as she enjoyed this charming, literate and ingenious tale as much as Jim and I have. What did surprise me, pleasantly to be sure, was how much more I enjoyed and appreciated this book the second time around. Penny's plots are tight and intelligent. The central murder to be solved in this novel is who killed a beloved elderly woman with an arrow and why. In itself, not especially intriguing, but Penny develops her plots with care and thought. No inane red herrings. No gratuitous sex or violence.
What makes Perry's novels special, from my viewpoint, are the wonderful, multi-dimensional characters she creates. And having read the series to date, what struck me this time was how beautifully she foreshadows the strengths and flaws of these characters, strengths and flaws that emerge naturally as the series progresses, as naturally as they do in real life. Whether it is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Montreal Surete, one of my favorite fictional detectives, or any of the unique supporting cast of characters, they never become caricatures. Never become predictable. Never black or white. These are characters who evoke the gamut of emotions from fondness, empathy and concern to frustration, and downright dislike. Characters as interesting, if not more so, as those in most novels on fiction shelves. Given Penny's writing skills, even the small Canadian town of Three Pines (whose murder rate must be outrageous) acquires such a rich personality that I consider it a character in its own right.
If you are a veteran mystery fan but don't know this series, by all means give it a try. If you have resisted mystery, thinking it formulaic, predictable, give Still Life a shot. And, please, let me know what you think.