Skip to content

Still Life, A Fatal Grace, The Cruellest Month, A Rule Against Murder, The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny

October 2, 2020

With the publication of her latest book, which is evidently set in Paris instead of Three Pines, recommendations to start reading the Louise Penny Gamache mysteries were coming at me from everyone, so I succumbed and got hooked. They’re all I’ve been reading lately, as I’ve had a stack of papers to read and comment on and so didn’t have as much time for other reading.

In Still Life I got acquainted with the characters and learned to love Clara. I love the descriptions of how she is always getting food all over herself and her clothing, and the little things we learn about her: “Clara found it easy to forgive most things in most people. Too easy, her husband Peter often warned. But Clara had her own little secret. She didn’t really let go of everything. Most things, yes. But some she secretly held and hugged and would visit in moments when she needed to be comforted by the unkindness of others.”

I like many of the little details about the characters, like that Peter has a moment when “maybe, said his brain and his upbringing, if you make enough tea and small talk, time reverses and all bad things are undone.”

By the time I got to the second book, A Fatal Grace, I had learned a lot about Quebec. As someone who grew up and learned to drive in southern Missouri and Arkansas it amazes me when a character asks casually “snow begun?” and another answers “a bit…but the roads should be fine.” It’s almost unbelievable to me, the amount of driving and walking on snow and ice described in these books. In The Cruelest Month, the characters agree that “they’d all felt the stunning certainty that this was how their lives would end. In a fiery crash, spinning out of control, invisible in the swirling, chaotic snow.” Since 2016 I’ve thought seriously about moving to the Toronto area, but the weather is still a deterrent.

Ruth Zardo the poet is a character beloved by the friends who recommend these books, but I don’t like her for the much the same reason I wasn’t thrilled about reading A Man Called Ove or watching Bill Murray in the 2014 movie St Vincent—because I too am irascible and can be exacting about things and don’t much like to cook but it doesn’t make me beloved and I don’t believe it ever works that way in real life. I certainly don’t believe that any of the characters enjoyed the dinner at which Ruth served bowls with “canned peaches, bacon, cheese and Gummi Bears” and then offered to pour Scotch over the top.

I do like the parts of these mysteries that comment on what people are like or will do in a certain situation. Gamache’s thoughts about his daughter are like some of mine about my own daughter; he is “seized with a desire to hold her to him, so that she needn’t pretend to be so brave all the time. She was fierce because she was afraid. Of everything. The rest of the world saw a strong, noble lioness. He looked at his daughter and saw Bert Lahr, though he’d never tell her that.”

I also like the descriptions that make it clear that Gamache looks generously at people, like at the fat woman with “skin like wings hanging from her outstretched arms and quivering so that she looked like a bird or a withered angel as she approached” to welcome him in A Rule Against Murder.

The other thing I like is the stakes of these books. Just when you might be starting to think that the small town and the beloved characters are safe from the effects of the murders being investigated, you find out that one of the characters might be guilty of murder and you see one of the detectives on Gamache’s team, Isabelle Lacoste, thinking that she “missed her children and her husband. But it amazed her how this small village seemed able to heal even that hole. Of course, if you stuff in enough muffins even the largest hole is healed, for a while. She was willing to try.”

The descriptions of food in these books, not incidentally, is one of the attractions, especially in these times when no one can go to a bistro like the fictional one in Three Pines, which serves delicious-sounding things like “steak frites…sizzling from the charcoal fire, the French fries thin and seasoned, a small dish of mayonnaise waiting for them on the side” and “rack of lamb, sending out an aroma of garlic and rosemary…tiny green potatoes and green beans…a basket of steaming rolls and a small dish of butter balls.”

I still have a satisfyingly tall stack of Louise Penny mysteries. I don’t know if I’ll read all of them before going back to my usual habit of reading several different kinds of fiction at once, but so far my enthusiasm for the mysteries is not flagging.

Have you read any of the Gamache mysteries?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2020 7:29 am

    Aw, yay! My mom went through a phase (maybe before quarantine? I can’t remember) where she got hooked on these too and just absolutely tore through them. I need to give them a try! With two such resounding recommendations for them!

    • October 6, 2020 10:15 am

      I’m on the seventh one now and they’ve all been good, so I eye the remaining stack with pleasure, as sure as a person can be that I have a number of reliably good books ready whenever I need them.

  2. October 2, 2020 9:25 am

    Well, you already know how much I enjoy them. They are among those novels that are bought on the day of publication and devoured. I was really impressed by the latest which was something of a relief as the previous one was something of a damp squib. I am so glad that you’re enjoying them and thoroughly agree with you about the food and the snow.

    • October 6, 2020 10:18 am

      Yes, it was your review of the latest one (set in Paris) that finally tipped the scale for me, partly because you mentioned the name of the first one so I didn’t even have to look it up. The parts about snow continue to amaze me. In the one set in Old Quebec City, the people actually had to walk in the middle of the road so they wouldn’t be injured by snow and ice sliding off the roofs…this is one of my worst nightmares, right next to the one about slipping while trying to walk over snow and ice.

  3. PAJ permalink
    October 2, 2020 12:05 pm

    I love that you’re reading these and blogging about them. Of course I love all the descriptions of food and want to live in Three Pines just to frequent the bistro.
    I don’t think people love Ruth because she’s irascible, but they do love her. Why you like your friends is a great mystery of life. But I do think her friends enjoyed the dinner of canned peaches, bacon, cheese, and Gummi Bears because (1) each of those is an enjoyable food and (2) they were with friends. Later in the series, Ruth becomes an “adoptive mother.” Maybe you’ll like her better then. I did.

    • October 6, 2020 10:22 am

      I do love these, but Ruth is my least favorite character. Maybe she will grow on me. I’m not very charitable about the bits of her verse that are included in the novels, suspicious of how thin she is, and dubious about what a jolly thing her alcoholism is portrayed as.

  4. October 2, 2020 8:46 pm

    I didn’t really like the first one in the series and never picked up the second. I’m in the minority on this! Perhaps I’ll give them another try, though. I’m so glad you’ve found a fun series. I am all in favor of escapist reading!

    • October 6, 2020 10:23 am

      I liked the first one, so this may not be the series for you. The characters do grow and change, though, and I like that in a mystery series.

  5. October 3, 2020 10:19 am

    Great collection of one author’s books! I have yet to read any books by this author. I’m glad to know you enjoyed them.

    • October 6, 2020 10:23 am

      There are at least as many more, so anyone like me who likes the first five has plenty more to look forward to!

      • October 9, 2020 12:36 am

        Wow.. and you have collected them all?

        • October 9, 2020 8:00 am

          all except the last one. It’s my security stack! There’s always something good to read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: