Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Discovering Louise Penny, or How to Expand My Must-Read Stack

For practical reasons, I'm reluctant to start reading books in a series--not because I don't enjoy them but because they tend to commandeer my reading time, elbowing other books out of the way. I couldn't wait to read all the Harry Potter books, and I wait for the next in Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce books. At least when I start reading a series as it's being written, I can keep up.  When I discover a series that already includes several books, I'm already behind.

Case in point: I had heard readers I respect mentioning Louise Penny's novels, but I just never knew enough to read one. Then a former colleague who knows my book tastes recommended her works. He said he had read them all. I started with Still Life, the first in Penny's Quebec Inspector Gamache novels. A murder mystery set in the small village of Three Pines, the story introduced a cast of characters in a little arts community. I know that strong characters pull me into a story, and the residents of this Canadian town are interested, vivid, and clearly drawn.

Best of all, though, Penny's writing is delightful.  Hers is not show-off literary prose; she just manages to put words together, to put words in her characters mouths--or heads--that I want to mull over. Since her characters care about art, poetry, books, and good food, the deft allusions are incorporated smoothly throughout the novel.

I made the mistake of picking up the next novel out of sequence, skipping ahead a few books just because of library availability, to A Long Way Home. Inspector Gamache was back in Three Pines, now as a resident of the little village. The plot has him helping Clara, one of the characters from the first novel, to locate her husband, from whom she has been estranged for just over a year.  Again, the art community is central, as is Myrna, the psychologist-turned-bookstore owner and the crotchety poet Ruth, this time with a pet duck.

I was able to read this one out of order, but I felt like I had been out of town for a long while, returning to find that I had a lot of catching up to do.  I decided to enlist my local librarians to make sure that I read the rest of the series in order. If only Inspector Gamache could solve a mystery for me: how am I going to read everything I want to read in the coming year--or years?

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