Still Life: The Kind of Writing that Makes You Want to Write

Louise Penny

The writing in Still Life is the kind of writing that makes you want to write.

That’s what my friend who is an avid reader told me and it made me pick up “Still Life,” which is a decision that I do not regret.

The author that so inspires my reader friend is Louise Penny and she writes a murder-mystery series set in small-town Canada. Picking up Still Life meant taking a break from my 400-book reading project, and it meant a huge departure from my own preferred genre of historical fiction. In fact, I think the last murder-mystery novel that I read was from the old Nancy Drew series. So…it’s been a minute!

Of course, my friend wasn’t wrong. If there was a way to give this book six stars, I would. 

Is it intensely deep or thought-provoking? No. But it is a wildly entertaining page-turner that has well-timed moments of hilarity and depth.

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The Still Life Plot Summarized

The main character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, a father-like figure who dresses smartly and strips truth from lies with his uncanny intuition and an unmatched ability to listen. 

It’s Gamache’s understanding of human motivation and desire where Penny finds depth – even as she writes of life and death. It is in the dialogue between characters where Penny pinpoints hilarity. 

I had to read some of the group scenes a few times as Penny deftly handles complex conversations with as many as eight characters chiming in. These are the best scenes because, even though the airspace is crowded, the personalities – and they are big personalities – shine through.

My very favorite big personality is the crotchety drunk Ruth Zardo whose poetry, sprinkled throughout the novel, is achingly good. When I looked up the real author of Zardo’s prose, I found another delight. The poetry is penned by Canadian writers, including one of my all-time favorites: Margaret Atwood. (Used with permission, of course!)

The setting, the fictional town of Three Pines in Quebec, is a character in and of itself. Penny describes the town so well that I figured she must live in a similar place in real life, and I was not at all surprised to find that she does, indeed, live in a small village south of Montreal. 

Inspector Gamache and his likably machismo right-hand man, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, are outsiders from the big city in little Three Pines, and the setup beautifully parallels the plot itself – an out-of-place murderer in a village of tightknit townsfolk. 

Who Should Read Still Life

Anybody who loves a good pageturner.

I could not put this book down. I read it in two days, staying up late into the night turning pages until Gamache gets to the bottom of things. It was an excellent departure from my norm and a break from my larger reading project.

And did I mention it’s a series? Click here for a review of the second book in the Gamache series.

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Still Life by Louise Penny

About the Author

Louise Penny lives outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border with her beloved dogs.

The inspiration for Armand Gamage is her late husband Michael to whom she was married for 20 years. 

Penny came to writing later in life. She was well into her 40s before “Still Life,” the first Gamache novel, was published. Before being published she was a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 

Buy Still Life from an Independent Bookseller

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