Book Review: Still Life by Louise Penny (4/5)

21 Sep

I’ve been away from my book clubs a lot. It’s nice to have a book to read again. I wasn’t as excited about this one as I have been for others. I’m not much for mysteries and I’d just started one on my own. I’m curious how we’ll discuss the book still.

Cover image via Goodreads

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

Summary from Goodreads:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

There were parts of this book I liked and parts I really disliked. I think a lot of effort went into building Gamache, Nichol, and Beauvior for future installments. I’m still iffy on if I’d read more in this series so a lot of that was lost on me, but I can understand why an author would do it. The mystery was fun with some good twists and turns. It was interesting to read it along the other one I was going through because it made it obvious how much better this book was.

Penny built some great characters. It’s sad to think the community of Three Pines was put together just for this book. I would hope they’d keep showing up in future Gamache stories with how well-developed they were. Nichol was one of the least developed but most interesting to me. I think she’ll develop a lot in future books. I only wish we’d gotten to see more of it in this one. It was hard for me not to picture Gamache like the Poirot played on the BBC show. It was a perfect match in my head!

I usually try to avoid picking the main character as my favorite character, but in this case, Gamache is the obvious choice. He was very honorable and very smart. I understood why he was mad at Nichol and I got mad at her, too. I understood why he liked Clara and why he became involved in Three Pines and I wanted to be involved and get to know everyone, too. He was a good narrator for this book and I’m glad that, despite the head hopping, the story usually returned to him.

Nichol reminded me of myself at my first job. I was not good at it and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to do it better! My supervisor would get mad and I’d follow his instructions on how to perform my job better but it was never enough. I’d like to think I’m a bit more self-aware than Nichol because I didn’t blame my problem elsewhere or try to make bad jokes but I understood how frustrated she felt. It’s infuriating.

Louise Penny Author picture via Time

I liked the reveal of Jane’s home. I thought that was a great point and a wonderful way of solving the murder. It was very visual but Penny wrote it well and I could see the home. I wish I could walk inside it, it sounds like a wonder.

Nichol seemed like a lazy add-on to this book, looking at it as only one book in a series. I’m sure she’ll become a more major player later but her introduction seemed unimportant to the plot. I was also not a fan of the head-jumping narration style. Especially listening to it, I was confused.

My audiobook was narrated by Ralph Cosham. I think he did a great job, though the British accent on Canadian characters seemed odd to me. I’ve listened to Cosham before with Animal Farm and The Screwtape Letters and I always enjoy his reading. I had a bit of trouble distinguishing between his voices but other than that, I enjoyed it immensely.

It’s hard to point to a theme in this book. Genre doesn’t always lend itself well to that. The closest I can think of is Gamache’s lessons to Nichol. She failed to listen, to observe what was around her. It would do her well to look past her vanity and see what others were feeling and thinking. It’s a skill she’ll have to perfect if she’s going to excel in her career at all!

Writer’s Takeaway: One thing that could have been better was developing Nichol. I’m intrigued and I want to know more about her, but I wish more had come out in this book. With how things were left, I’m wondering if she’ll be a part of the next book and I’d be very disappointed if she was not. I was also a bit put off by the head-hopping. It was better than I’ve seen it done elsewhere, but still a bit off-putting.

I liked the book but I’m unsure if I’ll read more in the series. Cozy mysteries are just not my cup of tea. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Still Life by Louise Penny | the redheaded reader
Still Live by Louise Penny | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel


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