I always enjoy finding a new mystery series, and I believe I’ve found a good one with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.
Gamache, with the Surete de Quebec, is the creation of mystery writer Louise Penny; the first of her series of mysteries is Still Life, set in the small town of Three Pines in Quebec, not far from the American border. Gamache is called to investigate the death of an elderly woman, Jane Neal, shot in the woods apparently by an arrow. Neal was a rather eccentric artist – loved by her neighbors but one who had never shown her art nor let anyone in her house beyond the kitchen.
Gamache and his team discover that what looks to be an accidental death caused by a hunter is actually murder, murder with a motive buried long in the past.
Penny is strong on characterization, not only for Gamache and his police team but the rest of the major and minor characters as well, a collection of both rather normal and rather eccentric people, most of an artistic temperament. One of them, in this quaint little village, is a murderer.
It is Gamache, however, who is the novel’s star. A loving husband with grown children, he is in his early 50s, enjoys good food, and believes in teamwork over lone wolf investigations. He has a past, with mostly notable investigatory successes but some have come at a cost. He listens and observes; he watches and likes to set potential suspect against potential suspect. He’s not convinced by an early confession. And he develops strong likes, and strong dislikes, for the people he meets.
One of the characters is a poet, and poetry plays a surprisingly significant role in the story (as does art). A poem by W.H. Auden contains an important clue. And Penny includes interesting historical facts about the region that had color and depth to the story.
And now I have the satisfaction of knowing there are several Chief Inspector Gamache stories waiting to be read.
Painting: Quebec Village by Arthur Lismer, oil on canvas (1926); Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University.