Having been a mystery fan since I found Trixie Belden (yes, before I knew about Nancy Drew) in grade school, I tend to forget others don’t share my enthusiasm for the genre. But the members of my Writers as Readers book club certainly reminded me when I picked Louise Penny’s Still Life for November. What was worse, I had just come home from my first Bouchercon in Toronto where I met the author (briefly) and sat in on several of her sessions.
Immediate criticism of the characters wasn’t the first thing I expected, but one of our members started off saying she thought they were “flat” and “stereotypical,” especially some of the secondary characters. Then another said,”None of the writing excited me.” And another disliked Penny’s handling of characters’ backstories. “There was a lot of telling,” and not enough “showing,” said another.
They did agree that the imaginary French-Canadian village, Three Pines, was itself a character in Still Life, likening it to Cabot Cove in “Murder, She Wrote.” (In later stories, even the characters talk about Three Pines seeming to be a murder magnet.) It did, however, provide a sense of time, place and atmosphere for the story.
They found some interesting symbolism in the houses of Three Pines, and in the use of bow and arrow as a murder weapon, tools of a silent hunter. And they identified the theme — evil is always defeated — as typical of murder mysteries.
While the book is written primarily in English, there is some French sprinkled in. I like it, since none of it was really beyond my high school French. Some others were distracted by it.
I could only take notes and sigh. I love Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Quebec, his colleagues (well, maybe not one of them), his wife, and the denizens of Three Pines. I would recommend it to any fan of traditional mysteries, even though my book club friends probably wouldn’t.