I had heard about Canadian author Louis Penny’s series set in Quebec, but I hadn’t started reading them until just before Christmas. Then I couldn’t stop! I think I was intrigued by the Quebec setting. One of my favorite books as a child was Mystery in Old Quebec by Mary C. Jane. It is a great story about the adventures of children, as was another favorite, Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. That one is about Norwegian children carrying gold bullion in their sleds as they play, keeping it away from the Nazi occupiers in World War II. (There seems to be a pattern here: thinking of current reads and being reminded of reading long ago.)
When I started the first Louise Penny novel, Still Life, I was impressed right away with her terrific writing and the fact that her detective is pretty much a normal person – one with great gifts for his job, but a nice guy in a good marriage who enjoys lots of things in life. Although he is based in Montreal, the stories are all related in some way to the small village of Three Pines. It’s not on any map; you have to go there to find it, almost like Brigadoon! In Three Pines he meets a wonderful array of characters that continue through all the novels. Three Pines is close enough to Montreal for the officers of the Sûreté du Québec to get there quickly and even get back home – if they want to go back home! The village is at once idyllic and yet full of the normal – and abnormal – range of human emotions and foibles. A favorite character is Ruth Zardo who is a poet who has won the Governor General’s Prize for Poetry. Her poems are beloved of Gamache, who knows many of them by heart, and odd conversations with poetry fragments continue through the stories. Ruth is a foul-mouthed cantankerous old woman, so much so that Gamache is astounded when he figures out who she is! She is just part of the complex set of relationships in the little village of Three Pines.
You can learn more about these novels at Louise Penny’s excellent website: http://www.louisepenny.com. On the tab that indicates the Inspector Gamache novels she lists them all in order, and they should be read that way. Her own story is very interesting and I commend it to you. She has been in recovery since she was a young woman and, although addiction figures fairly prominently in a couple of the novels, she does it in a way that is never preachy nor do all the details of recovery processes overwhelm the story. Like all the novels, this part of presented just as part of what happens to humans and how people and communities deal with it. Very well done indeed.
Not every novel is equally as good. The last one I read was sort of what I call the Dan Brown style of plot by question and answer: What is that? It’s a painting. What’s it called? The Mona Lisa. Why is she smiling? and so on. Penny does that in The Long Way Home. But it’s a powerful and poignant story. And maybe the questions and answers were the only way to make it work.
One really consistent thing in every book is food. The food and drink descriptions are terrific, and you just want to sit down with them all at the table in Olivier’s Bistro or wherever they are and tuck in!
So I hope that, if you haven’t already, you’ll “tuck in” sometime to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. Just make sure you have a lot of reading time ahead of you!