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Choosing mysteries for my mystery book discussion can be difficult. There is nothing better than a traditional well-plotted mystery; unfortunately these don't always lend themselves to good book discussions. The best discussions occur when a book evokes a variety of opinions and feelings in the readers; these tend to be more psychological in nature, with moral ambiguities and issues to discuss. They can be thought-provoking, but sometimes you need a little break from so much analysis. So I picked up "Still Life," the first in a mystery series by Louise Penny. It had won numerous awards and looked like just the escape we needed.

"Still Life" is set in the small Canadian hamlet of Three Pines, just south of Montreal. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team are sent to investigate the death of local amateur artist, Jane Neal. Her body was found on a well-known hunting trail; it at first seems that an errant arrow resulted in a tragic accident. It isn't long, however, before Gamache concludes that she was murdered. But who would want to kill a harmless, well-liked elderly lady? Only the night before her death, Jane had been celebrating the acceptance of one of her paintings into the local art show.

Despite his years on the force, fifty-some-year-old Gamache is still surprised by death, and once he is convinced that this was no hunting accident, his attention turns to the residents of Three Pines. Who among Jane's family and friends could be the guilty party? Could it be her grasping niece Yolanda who wastes no time taking over Jane's home, or could Jane's uncharacteristic behavior the night before her death have provoked the killer? Assisting Gamache is his second in command Jean Guy Beauvoir and newly promoted Agent Yvette Nichol, a smug, arrogant young woman who is barely tolerated by her superior.

The story seems deceptively simple but is well-plotted and clever. It has the depth and character development prized in any good book and it's a very satisfying mystery as well. Three Pines is an idyllic village anyone would want to visit, with many eccentric and appealing inhabitants. In Gamache, Penny has created an intelligent, intuitive and likeable detective, and I look forward to seeing more of him. The character of Yvette Nichol is irritating and unlikable, but I wonder if given a second chance, she will mend her ways.

If you enjoyed this book you should try the next in Penny's Inspector Gamache series, "A Fatal Grace," as well as the rest of the nine books in the series.

Recommended by Nancy Strakna


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