Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Curling Up With a Good Book

In these discouraging, frustrating times, we need to find oases of distraction. A dear friend recently introduced me to the Canadian author Louise Penny and her murder mystery series starring the multi-faceted gentleman Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The novels are best if read in order and relished like gourmet courses in an exquisite dinner. They’ve become my secret pleasure, delaying my laundry and email and work on my next novel. I humbly appreciate Penny’s writing talent (rich, humorous, and philosophical), literary references, and clever plot twists that are rarely easy to anticipate—at least for someone like me who glides through mysteries. Stories and back stories flutter over one another like clouds drifting from dark to light and back again. Penny’s characters occupy a sheltered Canadian village south of Montreal that she calls Three Pines. The village is difficult to find, an ideal of quaint, cozy beauty in a forested area that I find irresistible. Yet what makes me read book after book with a gusto I thought I’d outgrown is the characters.

Three Pines is populated with a diverse group of unique, talented people who make the village feel stimulating and unpredictable. They aren’t necessarily polite or even emotionally healthy, but they’re often witty, eccentric, and entertaining. Evil generally creeps in from outside, but it can also bubble up unexpectedly from within the shadowy recesses of discontented minds.

I’m drawn to the essential open-minded intelligence, insight, and morality of the Chief Inspector who seeks murderers from within their histories and emotional motivations. I fantasize about being welcomed into the village bistro by its gay owners to enjoy croissants, cheeses, and magnificent food, to browse the books in the shop next door owned by the sole black resident—a retired therapist, and to drink hot toddies in front of the fire as I chat with quirky locals about art (local specialties are painting and poetry) music, philosophy, God,…and hockey? (I might have trouble chatting about hockey for very long.) The people in Three Pines are attractive because they love one another openly while a few secretly hate. These aren’t idealized people but flawed human beings who sometimes fail to grapple successfully with their failings.

In the BBC television series MIDSOMER MURDERS, as in many American crime dramas, the grisly murders have a starring role (and Midsomer characters live in what is laughably known as the most murder-prone region on the planet). Identify the single character who is most likeable and least likely to kill and you have your murderer. Not so in Louise Penny’s novels. Good people can stumble and weak people can prevail. It’s a series that celebrates people who think in an age when both intelligence and education are unpopular. I find the reading utterly refreshing and encouraging.

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