Thursday, May 27, 2021

Still Life by Louise Penny

When I started hearing a few years ago about Louise Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series I put off giving the novels a try since I already have enough reading matter.  But the great reviews finally got to me and so I decided to read her first book in the series, Still Life published 2005.  And now, having finished Still Life I can say that the raves from critics and fans are well deserved.  It's an excellent novel and along with Donna Leon and Lawrence Block I now have another favorite mystery series to add to my collection.  

Still Life is set in the present day fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec.  It's a charming village off the beaten path where the residents are smart, civic minded and many have an artistic bent.  There is Ruth Zardo an accomplished poet with an abrasive personality, Olivier and his partner Gabri who run the bed and breakfast in Three Pines, collect antiques and serve delicious food.  Myrna a retired psychologist who runs the bookstore.  Clara and Peter who make a living through their artwork. Ben Hadley and his mother Timmer.  Matthew Croft, his wife Suzanne and their son Phillipe.  These are some of the residents and many have lived in Three Pines all their lives.  They grew up together and don't t bother to lock their doors

But then Jane Neal, the town's elderly retired school teacher ends up dead.  Her body is found in a wooded hunting area, killed with an old fashioned bow and arrow.  At first Chief Inspector Gamache and his colleagues Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir and Agent Yvette Nicol assume it was a hunting accident but as Inspector Gamache tells us "the problem with a bow and arrow is that you have to be too close.  Close enough to see what you're aiming at". And the injury that Jane sustained was a direct hit.

Three Pines is a town in other words with secrets and motives and Jane was also mysterious.  She loved to paint but never showed anyone her artwork.  She was social and a good friend to others but no one had ever seen the inside of her home.  These two aspects of her life remained private.  And then a few days before she died Jane suddenly decided to submit her paintings to the Arts Williamsburg Museum but before the night of the unveiling, she was murdered.

I have always felt that a mystery series rises or falls on the lead detective and Inspector Armande Gamache is smart, observant, compassionate, a good home life.  But he also has a tense relationship with the young agent Yvette Nicol on his squad.  They don't get along and Gamache has serious doubts about her abilities to listen and take orders which will probably be explored in subsequent novels in the series.  And as I understand the series will continue to be set in Three Pines and the villagers we are introduced to in Still Life will carry over and I am glad of that.  There is much more to learn about this little town and its mysteries.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

For this year's 2021 Back to the Classics Challenge - choose a twentieth century classic - I went with Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett published 1929 and to cut to the chase in no way can I recommend this novel.  No plot, no characterization, rival gangs gunning each other down on every other page, what was the author thinking?  

I ask because Dashiell Hammett is a major twentieth century writer.  Along with Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain he pretty much invented hard boiled crime fiction.  Hammett is the author of such classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man and what attracted me to him is that I had read one of his short stories many years ago and it was excellent.  And so maybe the problem with Red Harvest is that it was his first novel.  

I should add at this point that over at, Red Harvest has received 392 reviewers, the majority of which are 4 and 5 stars.  I don't get it but as with The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner, I am probably missing something.  Therefore, I will definitely be reading more from Dashiell Hammett, maybe the Maltese Falcon, and I will put the Red Harvest experience behind me.