Pining for Three Pines

still-lifeI’ve just finished listening to the audiobook of The Cruelest Month, the third of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mysteries (she has published five to date). As cozy mysteries often are, they’re stuffed with nonsense: sensitive, poetry-quoting police; a village without any visible industry, populated by quirky characters, blissfully happy despite the regular murders that occur there; wacky complicated crimes committed through intricate methods that require more steps than a Rube Goldberg machine. Analyzed logically, these books are a bit silly.

That doesn’t bother me. I love everything about them.

I believe in the possibility of Three Pines, the Quebec village where this series occurs less than I believe I might someday find a way into Middle Earth, but I delight in visiting it through Penny’s books. It’s a town full of artists, poets, gourmet cooks, booksellers, and other sensitive souls who seem to spend their days watching curling matches, paintingcruelest-month and hiding wooden eggs, or taking yoga classes, pass their evenings together over home-cooked meals, making bad jokes, and gently poking fun at each others’ lovable foibles.

When a murder occurs, it may bring some tension and external sadness, but it also brings the delightful Inspector Armand Gamache and his team of misfit Surete investigators back to town. Gamache comforts the unhappy, solves domestic quarrels, quotes liberally from literature, faces the real world down with dignity and humanity, eats the best of food, and at some point solves the crime. Normally, I have nothing but hard feelings for the Mary Sues of literature, but I can accept Gamache’s perfection with grace. He’s just too delightful for me to take umbrage. 

While the facts of these cases may defy realism, the emotions they spur do not. Penny has a gift for dissecting brutal-tellingthe good and bad in human relationships, making crystalline distinctions between good and bad, empathy and pity, equanimity and indifference. She tosses off handfuls of interesting observations about aesthetics, religion and belief, friendship, and other interesting matters like a flower girl tossing petals at a wedding. Even without the characters and the crimes to analyze, a book group could easily spend a meeting discussing the ideas that fill every chapter of her writing.

 I’m not usually a fan of the combination of coziness and crime, but I will always vacation in Three Pines. It’s just the place where I fit in best.

If you listen to audiobooks, by all means track down these. Ralph Cosham’s readings are note perfect.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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