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BOOK CLUB BEAT with Sherry Hemingway THE BOOK Still Life First book in the Three Pines/ Inspector Gamache mystery series, set in rural Quebec by the author, Louise Penny THE RATING: C aution: “Still Life” is a good, scene- setting kind of book that lays the groundwork for the next ten books in Louise Penny’s Three Pines/Inspector Gamache novels. This innocuous intro belies the danger that you are likely to lose more than a little sleep as you become addicted to each book. This series is that good. My love of mystery books dates back to two inconspicuous take-a-book, leave-a-book “Mystery Shelves” at my university. The collection had evolved through 20 years of students and professors before I came upon this decades-old trove of literate, original, charming and often quirky mystery novels. Some of the best series were out-of-print, never to be seen again. When I discovered Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny, I felt like I had re-found those shelves. The setting is the village of Three Pines, a mythical place inspired by the Eastern township of Quebec, Canada. The book’s central character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the respected and ethical chief of The Sûreté du Québec, the national police force. Novelist Penny has said the theme of her books is, goodness exists. Her protagonist, Inspector Gamache finds the world around him, even within the police force, is often at odds with that premise. It is illustrative of Chief Inspector Gamache’s character that he tells new agents the four sayings that can lead to wisdom, the four sentences his own mentor taught him: This “dinosaur” thinking is seldom compatible with arrogance and corruption. The counterpoint to more serious themes are the characters (literally) of Three Pines, an eccentric poet laureate with a pet duck, artists of varying abilities, a retired psychologist with a used bookstore, bistro owners serving sumptuous French dishes with French attitude – and all in all – a slew of endearing characters with the gift of banter. The dialogue is often a whimsical fencing tournament. And, the charming village of Three Pines is a kind of nirvana (until someone gets murdered). I recently attended BookSmart’s Book Lovers Reading Club in Morgan Hill as they tackled Still Life as their first Gamache book. Having read all the books in the series, it was fascinating to hear their intrigue with the charms of Quebec, the cultural confusions caused by a Canadian book (Canadian Thanksgiving is in October?), and their guesses (right and wrong) about the beginnings of the mystery of people and the unraveling of plots. With unfair knowledge of the development of the books, I could only think, “Just wait.” The 11 novels in the series arguably I was wrong I’m sorry I don’t know I need help GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN must be read in order. The plot of one builds on the next, and the next. Since the publishers (fibbing) tell you that they don’t necessarily have to be read sequentially, the books are not numbered. I once begged friend Lisa DeSilva, who had accidentally picked up the most recent book, to stop reading. I would have handed over the entire series to her, if only she would/could have halted. She didn’t, and now she knows too much. So for the rest of you, this is the order of the Gamache series, from the first to the most recent: STILL LIFE A FATAL GRACE THE CRUELEST MONTH A RULE AGAINST MURDER THE BRUTAL TELLING BURY YOUR DEAD A TRICK OF THE LIGHT THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN THE LONG WAY HOME Spouse and I seldom agree on books, but we both read this series faithfully. So much so that we will probably pre-order number 12. SHERRY HEMINGWAY spent her childhood after lights out with a book and flashlight under the covers. With degrees from Kent State University and Harvard University, her lifelong career was in journalism and public relations. Her hobbies are travel in (very) remote countries, volunteering, and two book clubs. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 67