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Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache…

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1) (original 2005; edition 2008)

by Louise Penny

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Title:Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)
Authors:Louise Penny
Info:Minotaur Books (2008), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:My Book Reviews
Tags:mystery, gamache, novel

Work details

Still Life by Louise Penny (2005)

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[Cross-posted to Knite Writes]


In a sleepy town in Quebec named Three Pines, a much-loved elderly woman is found dead, an arrow wound in her chest. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate Jane Neal’s death, which is ruled as suspicious but not necessarily homicide. Everyone in Three Pines is sure it was a hunting accident.

But Gamache isn’t convinced.

He begins digging into the lives of those related to Jane Neal, her friends and family. He uncovers many complex relationships, some stretching back decades, and all somehow contributing to the death a woman much beloved.

Clara Morrow and her husband Peter, two artists and long-time friends of Jane, find themselves at the center of the controversy. Right before Jane was killed, she submitted her first piece of artwork to the local gallery and scheduled a party, inviting all her closest companions into her living room for the very first time. But now Jane’s home has been commandeered by her awful niece, Yolande, who is convinced the home has been willed to her. And the police can’t kick the woman out without proof the home doesn’t belong to Yolande. So Clara can’t see inside the home of the woman she adored.

Meanwhile, the Croft family becomes the center of the investigation after they admit to being well-versed in the type of archery that killed Jane Neal. When Gamache and his cohorts arrive to question the Crofts, they find Mrs. Croft attempting to destroy a bloody arrow, bow, and the clothing of her teenage son. When Gamache confronts the son, he claims the father is the culprit. Matthew Croft attempts to confess based on his son’s accusations, but Gamache doesn’t buy the ruse. He’s determined to figure out the truth.

It all comes down to the death of a woman named Timmer Hadley. When Timmer was young, she overheard a friend name Ruth telling Jane Neal’s parents about an unapproved relationship with a lumberjack. Jane’s parents forced the relationship to end, and Jane spent the rest of her life unmarried. On her death bed, Timmer admitted to Ruth what she knew.

But the relationship between the three woman didn’t result in Jane’s death. The day Timmer died, Ruth was supposed to be looking after her, but Timmer told Ruth it was okay for her leave and go see the parade at the local fair. When Ruth returned, Timmer was dead. Since then, no one had suspected anything but the routine death of an old woman.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Timmer’s son Ben, who had long falsely claimed himself to be under Timmer’s “abusive” thumb, decided to off his mother with an overdose of morphine while Ruth was out of the house. He thought he’d gotten away with it. Until he saw Jane Neal’s painting — Fair Day. After realizing Jane painted him at the parade — he’d claimed to be in another town that day — he became convinced she knew about Timmer’s murder. So he murdered Jane to keep hidden a dangerous truth.

Clara Morrow and Gamache realize the culprit is Ben when they fail to find his face in the Fair Day painting. Because Jane didn’t paint the real crowd. She painted everyone she knew. Ben altered the painting himself, eliminating his image from it. His changes ironically lead the police and Clara right to him. In the end, Ben is caught, Gamache and co. fall down a flight of stairs, and, after finding a will that disinherits Yolande, the town solves a mystery that had been plaguing it for decades: what’s inside Jane Neal’s house?

Turns out she painted her entire house with murals. Floors. Ceilings. Walls. Everything. All of it scenes about the town of Three Pines.

Case solved, Inspector Gamache heads back to Montreal, plus one broken leg from that unfortunate staircase accident.

The End.


My Take

This is what you would call a “cozy” mystery story. It isn’t fast paced. It isn’t thrilling. It isn’t suspenseful. Penny takes her time building up the lives of her many characters, giving you insight into their histories and personalities, showing their complex interactions with each other. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this story, though that isn’t immediately apparent. If you like really quick, lightning-fast crime thrillers with a bunch of shootouts and high-stakes action…this is not the book for you.

Near the beginning of the book, I was honestly pretty bored. I felt like it was taking forever to get anything of substance out of the plot. However, I do appreciate the time Penny took to flesh out all of her characters. One common problem with the crime/mystery/thriller genre is that the case-of-the-week format sometimes leads to an abundance of flat characters. If you’re a big fan of good characterization, you should know this book has a lot of it. Tons of it. Occasionally a bit too much. But what’s important is that Penny doesn’t skimp on the characterization in favor of meaningless action. Every character is important in their own way and is gradually built up to be such.

Like I said, the plot wasn’t that exciting, but I was interested to see how all the elements came together at the end. It all fit pretty nicely, and that’s hard to do when you’re working with so many different characters. So, the plot was good, yeah…there just wasn’t a whole lot of adrenaline pumping.



Third person past, lots of different POVs. Somewhat omniscient? I’m not a huge fan of omniscient, and because of that, I don’t typically read it. Thus, I’m not so much an expert on it. To be honest, I don’t know how well it was used in this book. It didn’t really bother me, but it didn’t excite me either.


It Is Worth Reading?

If you like cozy mysteries, yes. It you want to read a mystery story that is calm and filled with colorful characters yet still has a good plot, yes. It you like high-octane thrillers…no.



3/5 ( )
  ClaraCoulson | Nov 16, 2015 |
I couldn't remember when or why I bought this book on Audible, so I didn't know what to expect when I started listening to it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the richly drawn portrait of life in the small Canadian town of Three Pines -- and the mysteries surrounding two older women's deaths.

I enjoyed all of the characters, including the two gay men who run the B&B, who were portrayed in a somewhat flamboyant but ultimately respectful manner. The part where we learn "who dunnit" was the least believable or enjoyable to me, as the guilty character went too far outside the boundaries of his previous characterization to be believable.

But I loved the exchanges between Inspector Gamache and the clueless newbie on the team as well as the parts from her POV, as it was so painfully clear that she had no business doing police work (despite her occasional good insight). My favorite part was when she saw the note on a potential suspect's mirror that read "you're looking at the problem," and instead of stopping to apply that bit of wisdom to herself, she turned around to investigate the part of the room reflected in the mirror, thinking that perhaps it would hold a clue to the mystery. A bit over the top, perhaps, but we've all known people who are almost as painfully un-self-aware as she is. ( )
  PerpetualRevision | Oct 25, 2015 |
I went around recommending this author to other people before I even read her myself, which I suppose is a dangerous game except that I heard about her from reliable mystery-readers. So when I finally got around to reading this first Gamache novel, I was very happy. I'm not a huge mystery reader myself, though I do find the genre in general to be a nice blend of entertainment and thought. I can never figure them out ahead of time, so I'm always surprised when the murderer or other criminal perpetrator or mystery is revealed. This one has the added bonus of being Canadian, and I don't think I've read a Canadian mystery since reading L.R. Wright, many moons ago. It did make me curious about the Eastern Townships, a region I've often heard about but never visited. The community of Three Pines seemed an idyllic place to hang out and live (if a little claustrophobic, as all small towns seem, to me). And I immediately fell for the Chief Inspector, who is smart and compassionate and everything you hope to find in a cop. I was of mixed minds about his colleague's constant (internal) complaints about Gamache's shortcomings which, I felt, could have been revealed in time by the narrative rather than pointed out so obviously by another character. The emergence of Nichol is unusual -- introducing a kind of antagonist into the protagonist camp-- and I'll be interested to see whether she shows up in subsequent novels or if she was just in this one to show something about Gamache. I found the characters well-rounded and believable, the writing clear and smart, the story interesting. I'm looking forward to the next title in the series. ( )
  karenchase | Aug 20, 2015 |
I have been looking for an interesting series of books with the same main character(s) who are likable but not one-dimensional. The plots must be interesting and the books not too long - something to turn to between heavy and more serious reading. I may have found it in Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. This is the first one I have read, but I liked it. Not great and memorable literature, but it fulfills my need. An additional bonus is that the series takes place in Canada and I am learning something about French-Canadian culture and customs. ( )
1 vote TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
After recommendations from many quarters (Mae, Katie, library patrons), I finally got around to beginning this series, and I very much enjoyed the first book. I think I will continue with the audiobooks; I like the narrator, who is able to grant real seriousness to a few of the sentences that might read as melodramatic in print.

In Still Lives, Armand Gamache travels from Montreal to the small town of Three Pines to investigate what looks like a hunting accident at first but may be murder. The victim, Jane Neal, was a kind old lady, well-liked if not beloved by everyone in town; what could the killer's motive have been, if it was indeed murder? Gamache and Beauvoir, with help from prickly new agent Nichol and Jane's best friend, Clara Morrow, begin to hunt down murderer and motive.

My first impression of Yvette Nichol did not match up with her later attitude (Gamache eventually throws her off the case). I'm not sure if this was a fault in my listening or if readers were supposed to like her at first until they saw her from another perspective. I also think it's a bit odd that though Ben Hadley was the one to discover Jane's body, this did not come up again later (again, maybe I missed it?).

Overall, though, a nice cozy mystery with enough twists and details to be interesting.


Jean Guy Beauvoir [Gamache's second-in-command] was loosely wrapped but tightly wound. (32)

What else did he see? What else didn't she? (Agent Yvette Nichol with Gamache, 33)

Tell me what you know. (Gamache to Jean Guy, 35)

"My mother used to laugh and say some people try to be in two places at once. I, on the other hand, am generally nowhere." (Ben Hadley, 39)

"No, Inspector, people don't change." (Ben Hadley to Gamache, 51)

"Life is choice. All day, everyday [sic]. Who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it. And our lives become defined by our choices." (Gamache to Nichol, 81)

"There are four things that lead to wisdom....four sentences...I don't know. I need help. I'm sorry. I was wrong." (Gamache to Nichol, 81, 161)

"Life is change. If you aren't growing and evolving you're standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are very immature. They lead 'still' lives, waiting....Waiting for someone to save them....The thing is no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get out of it." (Myrna to Gamache, 140)

No one was who they seemed. Everyone was more. (279) ( )
  JennyArch | Aug 10, 2015 |
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The beauty of Louise Penny’s auspicious debut novel, STILL LIFE, is that it’s composed entirely of grace notes, all related to the central mystery of who shot an arrow into the heart of Miss Jane Neal,...

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louise Pennyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cosham, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eggesvik, AstridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kõrgvee, EdeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nagano, KiyomiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ram, TitiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruiz Jara, BeatrizTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saint-Germain, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salminen, RaimoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stumpf, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werbeck, GabrieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is given, along with all my heart, to Michael
First words
Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.
She also felt a stirring that suggested she didn't actually like her son. Love, yes. Well, probably. But like?
Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312541538, Paperback)

Winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, 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 in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Still Life
introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:00 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the S?urete du Quebec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, 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 in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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