Still Life



  • Still life / by Louise Penny.


Publication Info

  • Waterville, Maine : Thorndike Press, 2012.



  • 9781410448972 (hardcover); $31.99
  • 1410448975 (hardcover)


  • 478 pages


Traditional mystery


5Q, 5P


The early morning death of Miss Jane Neal appears to be a terrible hunting accident, but Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec suspects something more sinister in the quiet town of Three Pines.


“Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around.” So begins Still Life, by Louise Penny. The quiet, old-fashioned village of Three Pines, Quebec, is hiding deep secrets. When one of those secrets results in death by bow and arrow, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec in Montreal is called to the scene with his team. While the death looks like an accident, Inspector Gamache, using his great observational skills, is not so sure. As his team works the case, Gamache must deal with a new staff member who has no team skills and with his own past which threatens to swallow up his career.


Still Life is the first in a series of Chief Inspector Gamache novels, with twelve novels in all so far. It is a classic mystery, with plenty of tension, lots of suspects, and clues to follow if you’re able. The writing is clean and lyrical prose, with only a little bad language which is mostly in French.

The story is character driven, with great character development. Armand Gamache (last syllable pronounced mash) is the classic detective. He is brilliant, intuitive, a man of integrity, and kind–but don’t mistake the kindness for softness. His team members, all given depth over time, love him (almost all, anyway) and perform well because of his leadership. The village characters are a wonderful blend of personalities, with the seeming ease of a lifetime of friendship in a small community. The author, however, leaves enough shadow in each character to keep the reader guessing. Even the deceased, by all accounts an upstanding and beloved citizen, has a mystery in her own life that provides an important clue for the Chief Inspector.

The novel is atmospheric and complex without being terribly dark. From opening to closing lines, this mystery is perfectly written, with just the right teasers to entice the reader along in the series.


Louise Penny is an award-winning author and is included in Gereflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests.


Don’t miss the pronunciation guide for the French names and phrases here on

A terrific interview with Time.

A video interview from The National.




Huffington Post (This review is more about the series and is a good introduction to newcomers.)

Appeal Factors

This book and series will be like candy to lovers of traditional and maybe cozy mysteries. Also great for readers who love complex, well-developed characters and slow-building plot with plenty of tension.


Follow Me Down, by Marc Strange. Both novels are intelligent mysteries with Canadian settings.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. One set in a village in modern-day Canada and the other in a village in 1950’s England, these two novels nonetheless share quaint village settings and character-driven stories as well as the genre of traditional mystery.

The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill. Recommended by Novelist. Hill’s lead character is Simon Serrailler, compared by Novelist to Inspector Armand Gamache.


New Blood Dagger Award; Arthur Ellis Award; the Dilys Award; the 2007 Anthony Award; and the Barry Award

Booktalk Ideas

One angle to take would be to describe the characters of the suspects, giving their possible motives and suspicious behaviors.

Another possible booktalk could describe the moments of the murder, with the description appealing to all the senses and ending with a hint at what the victim saw in her last moments.

Discussion Questions

Why did Gamache want to keep Agent Nichol on his staff? What does this reveal about his character or leadership style?

Did you figure out “who-dun-it” before it was revealed in the book? If so, what were the clues that led you to this conclusion? Or did you guess wrong? If so, why did you think that?

How important is the setting in this book? Would you want to live in Three Pines? Which character would be your best friend?

Ruth Zardo is a very difficult, bitter person. Why do you think the other village characters have welcomed her into their circle of friendship?

Why I chose this book

The back cover synopsis of each book in the series made the series sound very appealing with the emphasis on characters and the homey village setting.

Memory Hooks

Armand Gamache, Three Pines, bistro


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