Still Life is the first of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries. It provides us an introduction to the kindly Gamache and his team and to the beautiful village of Three Pines, where many of the subsequent mysteries are set.
An elderly woman named Jane Neal is found dead in the woods near Three Pines, shot apparently by a careless bow hunter. Inspector Gamache and his team are initially called in to ascertain whether the suspicious death is an accident or a homicide. Gamache quickly determines that the death was a homicide and then begins to look for the murderer.
Although Jane was highly regarded by most folks in the village, one suspect is her cold and greedy niece, Yolande Fontaine, who can’t wait to get her hands on her aunt’s property. Her husband has a criminal record, and her son is a delinquent who may have been out with a bow on the day of the murder.
Through this novel we get to know the characters who recur throughout the series–Olivier and Gabri, the gay owners of the bistro and bed and breakfast; Clara and Peter Morrow, local artists; Myrna Landers, a former psychologist who owns the bookstore; and Ruth Zardo, an eccentric curmudgeon who turns out to be a famous poet. Another important character is Ben Hadley, Peter Morrow’s best friend for years, whose mother died a month before from cancer.
Penny’s mysteries have the feel of cozies set in a small village, like some of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books. Her characters are well developed and interesting. The peaceful atmosphere of the village is palpable. I had a disadvantage in reading this novel after most of the others, so it was clear to me that the murderer was someone who no longer lives in the village in the later books. This narrowed the field considerably. I would advise those who are interested in reading Louise Penny’s series to start with Still Life and try to move forward in order.