18 September 2011

Little Canadian treasure

I'm pretty sure I know how Still Life got on my "to read" list. It was one of those innocent-sounding questions that Dale Stahl asked at the end of one of his e-mails, "Have you ever read anything by Louise Penny?"

My answer was, "No," but based on his recommendation, I put her name on the list.

I'm really glad I did. Tana French probably puts extra efforts into the beginnings of her books and Louise Penny must put extra effort into dialogue that reveals characters. And she creates characters that are more than names and titles.

For example, her Inspector Gamache has to tell his wife that he can't attend his grand-niece's christening because there's been a murder.

The scene unfolds: "'Did you murder this person?' Reine-Marie asked her husband when [he] told her he wouldn't be at the two-hour service on hard benches in a strange church.

'If I did, I'll find out...'

'"I'll just tell them you're drunk, again,' she said when he asked whether her family would be disappointed he wasn't there.

'"Didn't you tell them I was in a treatment center last time I missed a family gathering?'

'Well, I guess it didn't work.'

'Very sad for you.'

'I'm a martyr to my husband,' said Reine-Marie, getting into the driver's seat. 'Be safe, dear heart,' she said..."

Penny doesn't have to say much more about that relationship later in the book. Similar exchanges illuminate other characters and relationships.

And there's a story -- a complicated plot. For a story set in a small Quebec town near the U.S. border, there are quite a few reasonable suspects for the murder of a beloved, retired school teacher. There's even that chance that the death was a hunting accident, which caused a frightened outsider to run away. If Penny's later books take place in the same little town, I'll begin to suspect the Cabot Cove ("Murder She Wrote") syndrome, and I'll be very disappointed.

Right now I'm very happy to have read Still Life. It seems obvious to me that Penny loves the place and characters she created. If she keeps Inspector Gamache and his assisstant Jean Guy Beauvior and sends them around Quebec, she can avoid creating a death trap village like the one Richard Levinson and William Link created for Angela Lansbury.

I highly recommend this one. Good characters, good story telling, no great gore, no sex (not even a kiss), few improbabilities, and no super heroism. Oh, and there are some literary references (Auden, Davidson, and Plessner) that are not out of place.

Have you read Still Life by Louise Penny or another of Penny's books? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of them.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Dale Stahl, the person who first recommended Louise Penny, wrote:

"Aha – got you. I defy you not to read the whole series. Ask Dan Conrad his opinion. Warning: the second book is the weakest of the series, but still enjoyable. There are an awful lot of murders in the village of Three Pines, but I still want to pack my things in a car and drive around Quebec until I find it so I can live there forever and eat every meal at The Morrows’ or the Bistro.

"One of the books takes place at a resort hotel, and the last one I read was set in Quebec City, so not everyone in Three Pines is a potential victim or murderer.

"Great analysis of the dialogue revealing the characters by the way. And, the other thing I love are the little asides and observations about human nature and relationships and life in general. She stops me often with the breathtaking simplicity and truth she conveys in a sentence or two.

"BTW, I hate poetry in general, but I’ll be damned if I don’t want to read some and be able to think about it more often in a quiet moment on a sun dappled autumn day... All thanks to Louise Penny

"Sorry to ramble but I finished the Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Fails the improbable incredulity test and I was completely tired of the “history” of the Masonic Order by the end. I will happily ignore any future works by Mr. Brown."