I had somewhat mixed feelings about Louise Penny’s Still Life. I liked her quirky, wise detective, Armand Gamache, who works with the murder squad in the Sûreté of Québec. But I was put off by the setting, the idyllic country village of Three Pines where, it seemed, the inhabitants were constantly rotating around the village green like mechanical figures in a department store window.
A Fatal Grace just intensified that atmosphere — it’s Christmas, so now Three Pines looks like a holiday window at Lord and Taylor. The residents walk their dogs in the snow, skate, and drink so much hot chocolate that I swore, about 15% of the way in, to stop reading the moment another cup of hot chocolate appeared. (The villagers switched to Scotch at that point.) Now, it’s possible that Penny is exaggerating the bucolic charm to contrast with her Gothic plot, and I didn’t pick up the signals. But I zipped through this book in a mood of suppressed irritation, unimpressed by the plotting, bored by the shorthand characterizations. True, it’s the second book of a series and we’ve met most of these people before, but they shouldn’t be reduced to a few attributes and then pushed around like furniture.
I’ve been assured by the very reliable Annie that Penny’s books develop into something more interesting so perhaps the problem is the adorable little diorama village. Perhaps if I leap ahead in the series the attractive detective Gamache will turn to crime in Montreal. That would be a relief.