Recently I’ve read one of the most frequently recommended non-Cozy mystery series that site readers have been mentioning for quite some time now, Louise Penny‘s Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery Series. Specifically, I read the first book in the series, Still Life.
I’m going to stress again that this is most definitely not a Cozy Mystery, though it does share some elements with the Cozy sub-genre. That said, if your interest in mysteries extends past Cozies and into police procedurals with Cozy elements, I definitely “second” the many recommendations site visitors have already made. There is some swearing, so if you are particular about that, do beware! (Including what seems to be some non-conventional French Canadian swearing…?)
Turning to the murder, the death in Still Life begins with the death of elderly Jane Neal, former beloved local spinster and former schoolteacher. Naturally, she was one of the keepers of the community secrets, and naturally it seems like everyone might have had a reason to kill her, some recent and obvious, others ancient and obscure. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the man sent to solve the crime, along with his specially picked team, including his right hand, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Gamache is a kind, insightful man, with a very intuitive investigation style and a reputation for mentoring his people well, and is balanced by Beauvoir’s more analytical approach to policing and slightly more cynical viewpoint.
Still Life introduces us to not only Chief Inspector Gamache, the head of the Surêté du Québec (police of Quebec) homicide department, but also the scenic, rural, remote village of Three Pines, the iconic setting for the remainder of this series. Three Pines is definitely the element that feels the “Coziest” to me, as it is an out-of-the way community that harbors a wide cast of interesting characters, some native and some transplants, all of whom seem to know each other’s most – except of course the one reason that murder has been committed! That said, Three Pines does depart a bit from many more conventional Cozy settings >>>> as a village in French-Canadian Quebec but not far from the border to the United States, the village is a curious and interesting intersection between the “francophones” and the “anglophones” of Quebec, the division being whether any individual considers French or English their first language.
It feels unfair to keep harping on the fact that this really isn’t a Cozy, but I do want to stress that it’s definitely a well-written, enjoyable police procedural that I have no hesitation suggesting to anyone who is comfortable with a bit more police competence in their mystery reading than the standard Cozy, as well as a tolerance (or interest) in slightly darker “real-world” themes that Cozies sometimes have a tendency to shy away from.