Monday, 28 September 2009

Monday Mystery Spotlight - Louise Penny

As promised in my post last week, I've decided to start a series of reviews featuring Canadian mystery authors. Even to dedicated Canadian mystery fans, there seems to be a whole field of our own authors that are sadly neglected, except in the occasional write-up in a local newspaper. I also had quite a few comments from last week's post that many of you, my dear Gentle Readers, are interested in reading Canadian mysteries. So I am thrilled and delighted.

My first author is Louise Penny. She is fairly new to the Canadian mystery scene; her first book was published in 2004. Since then she has put out a book a year, to ever-increasing acclaim and mystery award nominations. Her official site is here, Louise Penny. On here you will find her books listed, and the awards for each of them. I'm going to list them all here anyway, since I want to make this part of the regular features that I do. Her site is very friendly and welcoming, and she is giving a free draw away for her latest book, A Brutal Telling. Here is a link on CBC Canada to Louise talking about her books, here.

I saw A Brutal Telling this past Saturday at Collected Works (one of Ottawa's best indie bookstores), and it looks very good. A Brutal Telling is the fifth in the series, however, I don't have the fourth - or I didn't until Saturday. I looked with big eyes at my husband as I held The Murder Stone in my hands, the 4th one, just out in mass market size. Because I'd had a particularly difficult Friday at work, my husband said, "Go on, you know you want it," after I murmured about her being a Canadian author. The tricks I use to get books in the door sometimes!!! So I can't give a review on The Murder Stone yet, but I will give a brief synopsis on the last two books - including a very brief (one line! but the best ever for ) synopsis for The Brutal Telling.

I will advise here that if at all possible, no spoilers will be given away. I hate knowing what happens in a mystery before I've had a chance to read it! So I'll do my best to do the same for you.

I also have a confession to make: I didn't hear about Louise Penny until I read the review in the paper about her, and if I recall the article, it was featuring The Cruellest Month, and gave the titles for the previous two books. I also chose Still LIfe over another mystery because it had a big red sticker on it proclaiming it was a Winner for the CWA for Crime Fiction, and I thought, ok, it can't be that bad then. See how hard our Canadian mystery writers have to work to get read?

The series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, which is the provincial police force. This means he is assigned to major crime outside the main cities - he covers the rural and village territory, where only a local police force exists in the larger towns, which don't investigate serious crime. When a violent crime occurs, the Surete are called in to investigate. He has a team of detectives under him, featuring Jean Guy Beauvoir, who has been his second in command for more than a decade; and starring a new recruit to the team, Yvette Nichol, and an officer from the local police force, Robert Lemieux. Enough about the team. The real star of the books is Three Pines and the people who live in it.

Three Pines is a fictionalized village in the province of Quebec, in the Eastern Townships. The Eastern Townships do exist, east of Montreal, south-east of Quebec City, just north of the border with the US. If you find the village of Sutton on a map, that is where Louise Penny lives, in the Eastern Townships. Here is a link to a description of the area. So for anyone afraid that there wouldn't much familiar - ie mostly French words or names, the Eastern Townships were settled by the Irish, Scots, English as well as the French and other nationalities. Most of the principal characters are either English, or bilingual. This is a mystery written for anglophiles, set in Quebec. which, seeing as that is endangered now (many, many Anglophiles left Quebec in the 1980's and 1990's; I was one of them), makes this a heritage series! What you will find is local Quebec flavour, from the descriptions of the woods, to the seasons, to the different festivities celebrated in each of the books.

One of the charms of the mysteries is that we see the characters, the village, the police, and the crime, through both the villagers eyes, and the police team's. There are many different points of view offered in each book, which gives a complete view of life in Three Pines, as well as allowing Penny to show the effects of the murders on different villagers and members of the investigation team.

One of the other elements is that Gamache has earned some enemies in the Surete, and the first three books is discovering that one of the team, if not more, are planted there, to watch and record his moves, and eventually to find a weakness to bring him down. This adds to the claustrophobic feeling as Gamache is unable to trust anyone outside the village in the police force, or depend on support, as well as having to suspect everyone in the village while investigating the crimes.

Still Life - The first book in the series. Nominated and runner-up for CWA Debut Dagger, 2004. Winner of the New Blood Dagger in Britain, Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel.

On Thanksgiving Sunday, the village awakes to find the body of one of the long-time residents in the woods. Who killed her? And most of all,why? Introduces the permanent residents of the village who we also see the mystery through, particularly Clara, an unconfident artist. She was one of the closest to Jane Neal, the victim, and her death has hit her hard.
Here is
my original review.

Dead Cold
- Book 2.
Set in winter, through the Christmas holidays. This is a good mystery to read during winter time, if only so you can experience just how cold our winters can get! And the suddenness of snowstorms. Curling is one of Canada's winter hobby sports, and in this second mystery,it is highlighted. A spectator at the annual Boxing Day curling match is electrocuted, but despite the crowd, there are no clues and no witnesses. This was a thoroughly good mystery to read, with a mystery that was a real who-dunnit and why. So many people wanted the victim dead. At the heart of the village all the regular villagers are there, and we are getting to know them better, particularly the marriage of Peter and Clara, and how these two artists struggle to support each other's work. I find this theme of creativity very interesting to watch, and fully pull for Clara to gain some confidence in her work. I also really enjoy seeing how the village celebrates Christmas. There is a real sense of community with this book, and this series, that I think sets it apart and is part of its charm.
Dead Cold and The Cruellest Month were reviewed by me at the same time, link here. By the way, the Christmas window at Ogilvie's in Montreal does exist.

The Cruellest Month - Book 3. Winner of the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Nominated for the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards in the US. (notice the absence of any Canadian awards for this book?)

The ghosts from the first book are still not settled. The old Hadley house, the house that is key in book one, the house belonging to the victim from book two, is still empty in Book Three, and everyone is beginning to think it is haunted. They are right; they are all haunted by the events of the past two years, so they decide to hold a seance. But something goes wrong during the seance, and someone dies.

I have to say the scene of the seance is a little chilling. And the village does try to heal from all the deaths it has experienced. Gamache too, also has a time of reckoning; the person behind the whispers, the betrayer, is finally revealed. I will say that I suspected who it was before the Inspector did, though I think this was the author's intention; she wanted to show that even the best of the best (and Gamache is generally taken as the best Chief Inspector the Surete has)has a blind spot, which is echoed by the murder investigation itself. What is the cost of love? And the fear of loneliness? When love comes into your life, in whatever guise, would you protect it no matter what?

This book is set in April, at Easter time. There is featured one of the most delightful Easter Egg hunts ever put into a book. I so want to move to Three Pines and raise my children there!! I'd run Myra's bookstore!!

The Murder Stone Book 4. Named one of Booklists Top 10 Mysteries of the Year.
Set in a hunting lodge not at Three Pines, the Gamaches - Armand and his wife Reine-Marie - have taken their annual summer holiday in late June. Another, very wealthy family, The Finneys, have taken up most of the rooms at the lodge, and when one of them is discovered dead, the Inspector is the logical choice to investigate.....that's all I know since I haven't read it yet! I read about 10 pages, just to get a feel, and now I want to read it all, but I have two other things on the go I promised myself I'd finish first. And Three Pines does show up, though how they connect, I am most curious to discover!

The Brutal Telling- Book 5. A Barnes and Noble Main selection for this fall, in the US. Also an ABA (made up of independent booksellers) choice also for this fall. (But other than being on the CBC book club list, will anyone in the Canadian Literary scene pay attention?)

I know nothing. But any blurb that includes " a trail of clues and treasures from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it" has me hooked right away. I really want this one for Christmas! That I do know.

To end this, this is a wonderful interview in Canada's national book newspaper, The Quill and Quire, with Louise, here.

And no, Three Pines does not exist. I would go live there though, in a minute, despite all the murders!!! It sounds like a wonderful village, and I think that is why it is highly recommended as a traditional closed-setting mystery in the Agatha Christie tradition. I love the different characters, the artists, the poet, the gay couple running the restaurant/hotel and bistro - some of the food described in the mysteries sounds so delicious that I get hungry reading the books!! The shared traditions of the village, the close-knit spirit of the community. And the setting of course, the forest all around. This is an excellent series for getting to know some of rural Quebec - and rural Canada, and how we co-exist with the forest and natural wilderness.

Next week: Giles Blunt


Table Talk said...

You must have mentioned Louise Penny before, Susan because my library list tells me that 'Still Life' is in transit. Which means that it's somewhere between here and there and might even arrive at my local library before Christmas, if I'm lucky. I hope so, I could do with a good crime read for the weekend. Do keep up with this series I love crime and I love Canadian writers, so this is ideal for me.

litlove said...

What a fabulous write-up! I'm waiting for my first Louise Penny to arrive in the post - book 3 of the series, which I really hope doesn't matter too much, but I could get a copy for 1p plus p + p - that was too good an offer to resist! Thank you for whetting my appetite.... :)

Molly said...

I first heard of Louise Penny earlier this year from Lesa's Book Critiques. I immediately purchased Still Life (because I can't read books out of order), but have yet to read it. I am hoping to become acquainted with Three Pines and Inspector Armand Gamache later this fall.

Court said...

Ooh, I'm pretty sure I almost bought Still Life a few years back, and then completely forgot about it. But! Rural Quebec settings! I've been meaning to read more books that take place in Quebec. I'll have to look into this one again.

Eva said...

I'm SO GLAD you're going to be doing this feature!! You have me convinced to try try Penny, and I'm sure you'll convince me again next week. :D

Susan said...

Table Talk: I mentioned her last week, when I talked about her book getting nominated when we in Canada are so bad at recognizing our own talent. I'm really happy to be bringing new mystery writers to your attention and even better Canadian ones!

litlove: if you can get Still LIfe, that's the best one to start with, as a few events in it affect the events of Cruellest Month, but it's mostly atmosphere and familiarity - you can read out of order. I hope you enjoy it! Glad to whet your appetite!

Molly:wonderful! I hope you can get to the series, but I know full well it's also when time permits, and the mood. One day you'll pick it up and it will be the right day.....till then, i hope to convince you to read other Canadian mysteries too! lol

Court: It's hard to find contemporary books that take place - in English - in Quebec, isn't it? So Penny's are rarer for that. Plus, it's a good mystery, and about an area that really only people who have lived in Quebec know about, and it's a beautiful location. I could be a travel writer, couldn't I? lol

Eva: I'm so thrilled you are so excited about this, you and Ann (Table Talk)! It's fun to bring Canadian writers out. I have some interesting series lined up....I'm excited too doing this.

To everyone: thank you so much for being supportive of my spotlight!

Tracie said...

What a fabulous review--I now have to come up with a great reason to convince my husband that I need to buy this entire series!

My mother's family is Canadian, and although I have never been able to live there, I always have wanted to (there is something about longing for family connections in there, but that is a topic for a different day) so, until that day, I love to read books by Canadian authors. That way I get to "live" there for a short time, at least in my imagination.

Off to amazon now....

Memory said...

I like this new feature! I love mysteries, but I know very little about Canadian mystery authors. Most of the mysteries I read are by British authors.

Julia Smith said...

I haven't read any Louise Penney, but I have to say she's got great luck with her covers.

By the way, Susan - thanks for the comment about the art work in my sidebar. I call it my Sidebar Art Gallery, and I have a new 'show' every month.

Susan said...

Tracie: thank you! Do you know where in Canada your mother's family was from? That might give you a little idea of your background and when they arrived there. I know what you mean by needing to read about a place if you can't be there. My husband and I both read many things based in England! He is from there, and I lived there for a year, and really loved it.

Memory: thanks so much! I had no idea that people would want to read our mysteries, or that they were badly publicized until I really thought about it after the article I read in NZ. Of course, I'm trying to read more NZ mysteries now! So if I can get a few more of our authors enjoyed, that will be fabulous. I think we all read British mysteries. I wonder why they are so popular? that would be an interesting post one day too!

Julia: Yes, her covers are good. The books are good too, though! Sometimes I wish the artwork could be framed (with or without the title name.) Like offered for sale to us, the readers, not just the authors.

I like your sidebar art show! I've been thinking about it all day.....

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