“Still Life” is a like a favourite armchair: a comfortable, familiar, structure that you relax into and become reluctant to leave.
This is a leisurely tale of murder, betrayal, art, archery and excellent croissants.
Set in a rural French Canadian village that seems to be populated by local hunters who were born there and talented but poor artists and poets who relish its bucolic charms, it involves the investigation, by a senior detective and a surprisingly large team of police officers, of the death of a local artist who has been shot through the heart by an arrow.
The tone of the book is set by the polite but unyielding authority of the most senior police officer, Inspector Gamache, a well-read, softly spoken man who observes closely, thinks deeply and spends much of his time gathering information either by sitting in the local bistro/café or by sitting on a bench on the village green, watching who does what with whom.
Gamache solves the mystery by pulling at loose threads that others might miss until the deceptions hiding the killer unravel and all is revealed.
The writing is vivid without being garish. There is a strong sense of place and community. The story has the unhurried pace of a dinner party where each course is to be savoured and discussed between friends before things move on. I rather enjoyed the poetry attributed to one of the characters who turns out to be a famous Canadian poet.
The plot is a puzzle, with a satisfying number of twists and turns and a relatively small number of suspects. I worked out the killer just before their name was revealed. I take this to be a kindness on the author’s part, allowing me to feel smug but not bored.
Despite being about murder, this is a gentle, reflective, cultured book that is as much about understanding the lives the villagers have constructed for themselves as it is about discovering whodunnit.
I felt that I’d taken a pleasant weekend break in a place different enough to be interesting but not so exotic as to disturb my comfort.
The first book in a series, “Still Life” left me disposed towards reading more but not passionate about getting the next book as soon as possible.