I really enjoy mysteries and I’m always excited to find a mystery series that stands out from the crowd. Still Life by Louise Penny is the first book in one of those. Set in Quebec, it “stars” Armand Gamache a police officer in the Surete du Quebec. I had actually read Penny’s most recent Gamache novel last year and enjoyed it so went back to read this, the first one.
There is a lot of the “stock” mystery in this book: small bucolic village that creates somewhat of a locked room situation, red herrings, dramatic twist revealed at the end. Even the characters are recognizable as types. There is Gamache, the lead detective who is more sensitive and literary than people expect (think Adam Dagliesh, Lord Peter Wimsey or Thomas Lynley). There is the sidekick who is more down-to-earth and tradtional but who is fiercly loyal to the main detective. There is the young police officer who is brilliant but socially inept who Gamache is giving a chance (think Barbara Havers).
But. All these stock elements are done very well and with enough personal style that this book really shines. H. and I went to see a performance of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap in London on our honeymoon. His comment at the time was that it was too stereotypical. I replied that it seems that way now but that she pretty much invented (or perfected) the sterotype. Today, I’d say to mystery authors that you can use the sterotypes but if you do you better do it well since there are so many in the field and so many greats (Christie, Marsh, James, Sayers) before you.
Penny does it well. I also had the benefit of having read her most recent addition to the series before this one and there is a lot of growth as a writer between them. I look forward to going back and reading the ones in between as well.
This is the third book in the Dr. David Hunter series by Beckett. I reviewed the first one here. I typically like the cozy traditional mystery more than thrillers, but this series is an exception. What makes this not a mystery is that the tension isn’t as much about who-done-it but more about how they will catch him and why he did it.
Probably the thing I enjoy the most about this book are the really amazing and fantastic forensic details. The main character, David Hunter, is a forensic anthropologist. Like the others in the series that I’ve read, the details about the bodies are gruesome but fascinating. The other thing about this series that puts it above others in the genre is that the characters are three-dimensional and well-drawn. I like Hunter and want to find out more about him and not just he bodies he comes across.
Either of these would make a great summer (or anytime) read.