Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mysteries from Québec

I was at loose ends for new reading material last week, so our own Aunt Agatha recommended that I try the mysteries of Louise Penny. I'm so glad she did! There is, of course, a formula to these traditional mysteries--an inspector and his team who appear in each book, a specific locale, a cast of repeating characters--and yet within that formula there is so much freshness.

The books are set in a little town called Three Pines, hidden in a valley in Canada between Montreal and the Vermont border. The investigator is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec, and he is a wonderful character--smart, psychologically astute, kind, and literary. Penny sprinkles her works with wonderful verse by the likes of Margaret Atwood, but penned in the book by the village's resident poet, the foul-mouthed and exceedingly entertaining Ruth Zardo.

Penny also shows the French obsession for the details of food, featuring in the village a wonderful B&B/bistro that supplies such delicacies to its residents and the inspector's team that I defy you to get through an entire book of Penny's without heading for the refrigerator to make yourself an upscale snack. Runny brie and baguettes, café au lait and fresh croissants, cassoulet...oh my.

The mysteries are as complex and multi-layered as the food, being intricate murders with multiple suspects, subtle and interesting motives, and surprising conclusions, and the stories are inhabited by both pathos and humor. Her first, Still Life, came out in 2008 and promptly won the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards; I have made my way through all but one of her back list (for which she won four Agatha Awards in a row), and can't wait to read her newest, A Trick of the Light, which focuses on one of my favorite characters, painter Clara Morrow.
If you like your mysteries permeated with the complex emotions of nuanced characters, Louise Penny is for you!

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