Still Life by Louise Penny

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I began Still Life, the first book in Louise Penny’s award-winning Chief Inspector Gamache series, with low expectations. This was due to having read mediocre reviews of this mystery novel. However, I had also read that one of the strengths of the series was the character development, and thus, it was important to read about Gamache’s adventures in order. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel.
Things I liked about it:
1. The gorgeous setting…Three Pines, a tiny village in Quebec, which Penny describes with evident love.
2. The humor! This was perhaps the biggest surprise to me. Penny’s writing frequently made me laugh out loud…(for those who have read the novel, and without giving away any plot elements, one of my favorite instances being when Clara encounters Gamache in the deer blind). Penny’s humor is the kind that makes you giggle in delight at the absurd, but her humor is not at all cynical or cruel. In fact, that leads me to another thing I liked about Still Life
3. The kindness, the humanness, of the characters. Three Pines is a close-knit community, with characters who are quirky, unique, and flawed, but who, for the most part, are also gentle, decent people.
4. The lack of gore. So many crime novels today are really dark, such as the immensely popular, immensely bleak, genre of Nordic noir. It was a welcome change to read a murder mystery that left me feeling warm and fuzzy, rather than like I needed a hug.

Things I didn’t like so much:
1. Still Life was slow. Perhaps in part due to the fact that it is the first installment of the series, and requires extra explanation, or because the characters have yet to be developed, Still Life didn’t have much suspense.
2. The mystery was nothing to write home about. The plot was not what kept me reading, rather, it was the characters and escape to a beautiful place.

That are my first impressions after finishing Still Life. It is very clearly the first novel in a series, with characters who are in transition, and whose lives will be explored further. In my opinion, Still Life is not a “cozy” mystery, as I have seen it described in some reviews. While it is similar to cozys in that it avoids graphic violence, to me, Still Life hints at much deeper themes, while most cozys are like cotton candy….sweet, but ephemeral and easily forgotten.
I plan to read more of the Inspector Gamache series, but at least after this first mystery, I don’t feel like I have to go on to mystery #2 immediately. I plan to plunge back into literary danger, suspense, and intrigue…and then, when I need to come back up for a breath of fresh mountain air, I will be revisiting the comfortable, and comforting characters of Three Pines once again.

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