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More travel this week. Travel to Canada, and to be specific, to Quebec. The Eastern Townships, south of Montreal, is where you would find Three Pines, if the bucolic village actually existed outside of the novels of Louise Penny.

Penny started her professional life as a journalist and radio host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Born and raised in Toronto, she received a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute before going to work for the CBC. During her 18-year career there, she worked as a broadcast journalist, radio host and documentary producer, in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Quebec City before reaching Montreal where she concluded her broadcasting career. It was in Quebec City that she learned French:
It's staggeringly beautiful and almost totally French and I wanted to learn. Within weeks I'd called Quebecers 'good pumpkins', ordered flaming mice in a restaurant, for dessert naturally, and asked a taxi driver to 'take me to the war, please.' He turned around and asked 'Which war exactly, Madame?' Fortunately elegant and venerable Quebec City has a very tolerant and gentle nature and simply smiled at me.

Louise Penny

While working in Montreal, Penny met, and eventually married, the head of hematology at Montreal Children's Hospital. Together they now live in "an old United Empire Loyalist brick home in the country, surrounded by maple woods and mountains and smelly dogs."

The Canadian Province of Quebec is unique in North America. Although the Canadian Government conducts its business in English, Quebec's official language is French. All advertising in Quebec must give precedence to French over English or any other language. With a population a hair under eight million, 76% consider French as their mother tongue. English is the mother tongue of 7.7%. An astonishing (to an envious me) 43% of the population is bilingual, speaking both French and English.

Many of the small villages of the Eastern Townships were settled by Loyalists escaping the American Revolution and, although they retain a British character, they have been polished by the Francophone culture of Quebec. One such village is the mythical Three Pines:

Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.

Still Life, page 14

While the novels of the Inspector Gamache series can be read as stand alones, each dealing with a separate murder and theme, there is a backstory, or two, that span a number of the books. Watching these backstories and the relationships of the characters develop over time is one of the pleasures of reading the works of Louise Penny.

Within the Sûerté du Québec, is the head of Homicide, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, kind of a cross between Jean Luc Picard and Ben Cartwright, according to his creator.

The pivotal role in the Three Pines series, and certainly in A Fatal Grace, is Chief Inspector Gamache, a man in his mid-fifties, large and comfortable. His body speaks of engrossing reads by the fireplace, of café au laits and croissants, and quiet walks through Parc Mont Royal with his beloved wife and dog. His power comes from his stillness, his calm, his great presence. When he walks into a room people know the leader has arrived. He is kind, content and compassionate.

Louise Penny via My Book, the Movie

Notice the words "kind, content and compassionate." No tortured soul here. No John Rebus or Kurt Wallander, but a good man who finds goodness in truth. A man who deeply loves his wife, Reine-Marie, ("After thirty-two years of marriage he still couldn’t get enough of Reine-Marie.") and their children. Interesting concept.

Working with Inspector Gamache, as his second in command, is Jean Guy Beavouir, having been plucked out of the obscurity of an evidence room clerkship by the famous homicide detective a decade before. He has learned much from Gamache during the ten year apprenticeship but still retains his edge, and his lack of patience with fools.

Agent Yvette Nichol is a thoroughly unlikable character who is a trainee in the homicide department. With much to learn, she has a tendency to speak without thinking and to irritate all who come in contact, including, occasionally, the otherwise unperturbable Gamache.

The local officer, Agent Robert Lemieux, anxious to assist, was the first on the murder scene in Still Life and joins the team for the investigation.

And Agent Isabelle Lacoste who a long-time member of the homicide department in Montreal.

The village of Three Pines is populated by artists like Clara Morrow and her better known husband, Peter Morrow, who barely eke out a living on the meager sales that Peter's ultra-realistic paintings bring in. Clara's work is still waiting to be discovered. And there is Peter's childhood friend Ben Hadley, of the now defunct Hadley Mills, and heir to the Hadley Mansion after the passing of his elderly mother the month before Still Life opens.

Ruth Zardo, the internationally known poet, is a bitterly sardonic resident who appears to have "very little impulse control" according to the town's bookstore owner, Myrna Landers. A large woman of color, Myrna left a career as a psychologist in Montreal after realizing that too many of the people she tried to help were simply waiting for someone to save them.

Olivier Brûlé, with his partner, Gabri Dubeau, owns and runs the village Bistro and B&B with élan and collects antiques which are then sold in the Bistro. (The Bistro, and its offerings are a good reason to never read a Louise Penny novel when you are hungry.)

The village also boasts a grocery store and a bakery which complete its commercial district. There is no police station in town but then, there had never been any crime.

Still Life
By Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books
July 11th 2006
Hardcover, 312 pages

The second time I read this novel, I didn't read it at all, but allowed British actor, Ralph Cosham, to read it to me. Now, in my head, I could pronounce Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Bevouir and Yvette Nichol. The beauty of the French words and names were such that the story came alive in a way that it hadn't earlier. And I joined the millions of other readers worldwide who wanted to spend more time in the mythical village of Three Pines.

On Thanksgiving Sunday, Jane Neal, a much beloved member of the Three Pines community, was found dead under a tree in the nearby woods, apparently felled by an arrow. A retired schoolteacher of seventy-six, she had never married and had no known enemies. Even though there was that recent incident when she broke up a homophobic attack by local teens on Olivier and Gabri's Bistro, it appeared to all that Jane had been the victim of a hunting accident.

Well, to all save Armand Gamache. Called away from the christening of a grand-niece in Montreal, he quickly determined that there was more than met the eye in the death of this well-liked but very private resident. A member of the local art community, she never allowed anyone to see any of her work. Nor did this social woman ever allow anyone into her home, keeping visitors restricted to the mudroom and kitchen.

Setting up an incident room first at the Bistro, and later at the old rail station that was shared with the volunteer fire department, Gamache and his team begin the painstaking search for clues to the murderer's identity. Part village cozy and part police procedural, we learn about the different forms of archery, primitive art and what it is like to live as Anglophones in a Francophone Province. And we learn about secrets hidden in plain sight.

It was filmed as a CBC television movie in the fall of 2012 and aired in September of 2013. Unfortunately, US residents cannot view it online as can residents of Canada using the CBC player on their website. But here is a look at the characters and actors who portray them:

And yes, that is Nathaniel Parker best known to American audiences for his portrayal of Inspector Linley. He suits the part well, as Inspector Gamache, although a Francophone, speaks English with the British accent he picked up while studying at Cambridge.

The awards and honors won by this debut novel:

The New Blood (Creasey) Dagger (2006) of the Crimewriters Association (UK)
The Arthur Ellis Award (2006) of the Crime Writers of Canada (Canada)
The Dilys Award (2007) of the Independent Mystery Bookstore Association (USA)
The Anthony Award (2007) (USA)
The Barry Award (2007) (USA)
Kirkus Review: a Top Ten Mystery of 2007
DorothyL Best Mystery Novel of 2007
Bestseller lists in Canada and the IMBA
Finalist for The Barry Award for Best Mystery Book of the Decade
I-Tunes (Canada): Top AudioBook of 2011
Louise Penny Website
A Fatal Grace
By Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books
May 15th 2007
Hardcover, 311 pages

It is Christmastime and Clara and Myrna are in Montreal for the launch of Ruth Zardo's latest book of poetry, I'm FINE. Ruth, Three Pines' elderly embittered poet, had just won the Governor-General's Award for her work. (The poetry of Ruth Zardo is actually the poetry of other Canadians like Margaret Atwood, used with their permission.) While in Montreal, Clara stumbles over an old homeless woman who seems to know about her art.

Back in the village, the residents of Three Pines prepare for the holidays with caroling, parades, sleigh rides and fresh baked Christmas goodies. On Boxing Day the community meets on the frozen Lac Brume for the curling tournament. During this annual match, a new resident of Three Pines is apparently electrocuted in front of the entire town while watching the match.

Unlike Jane Neal, CC de Poitiers was universally despised by her new neighbors. A self-absorbed woman, whose greatest desire appeared to be fame, this wanna be Martha Stewart, had written a book called Be Calm, about her new design theory. Before giving up and self-publishing it, she had shopped it around:

They’d all said no, immediately recognizing the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she’d eat her young.

A Fatal Grace, page 3

She was dismissive of her husband and mean to her daughter. Seeming to delight in causing others pain, she missed no opportunity to be cruel. Finding the murderer among so many happy to see her dead, is the job of Inspector Gamache and his team. As in all good mysteries, there is no clue, essential to the solving of the crime, that is not included in the telling of the story.

Three Pines at Christmas is a lovely place to be. Reine-Marie joins Gamache in the village for a few days as this novel takes as one of its theme our families. Both the ones to whom we are connected by blood, and those with whom the only connection is love.

This proved to be another Award winner for Louise Penny:

Agatha Award for Best Traditional Mystery, 2007 (USA)
The Sunday Times, Culture Magazine, Audio Book of the Week, May 6, 2007
Named one of the best books 2007, Deadly Pleasures Magazine, USA
American Booksellers Association Book Sense, Notable Book, June 2007
Book List, Rising Star, June 2007
Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) a 'Killer Book' for May 2007
Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) bestseller, September 2007
Finalist for the 2007 American Library Association book of the year
Bestseller lists in the US, Australia and Canada
Louise Penny Website
Louise Penny has taken the cozy village mystery, created and made popular by Agatha Christie, and has breathed new life into it by combining it with elements from police procedurals. She uses lyrical prose and humor to enrich her complicated mysteries with people that a reader would like to meet and to spend time with. With each novel she moves the backstories further along, adding depth and dimension and change to her characters.

Next week will include a look at some of the other stories in this series.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

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2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
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MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
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Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays (on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
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Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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