This week’s edition of People magazine* outraged me by referring to Louise Penny’s new book (THE LONG WAY HOME) as "a cozy, croissant-filled mystery." Granted, the blurblets People uses allow no room for subtlety, but using such a dismissive phrase for Penny’s books is like calling the Bible “a random collection of Jewish history.”
You can indeed smell the croissants in Penny’s books. You can smell the snow, and feel the touch of wind and water on your face, the sun-warmed firmness of the wooden bench you’re sitting on. You can stand on a precipice over the great St. Lawrence River and feel the awe of the first person ever to see it. Her books will suck you in effortlessly, and you’ll wake up from their trance blinking and wondering where you’ve been for the last several hours.
Her books have a living pulse, but her talent for immersive description is the least of it. Most of the books are set in the remote, mysterious, and somewhat magical (in a non-gimmicky way; no werewolves roam the woods) village of Three Pines. Founded by United Empire settlers (the American colonists who fought on the side of King George III and then fled the war to a safer refuge in Canada), Three Pines continues to be a place of refuge.
One of the people drawn to it is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of Quebec Securite’s Homicide unit. It is, of course, murder that draws him—for even a peaceful place like Three Pines has human beings whose personalities or histories drive them to violence. Three Pines also has one of the most charming assemblages of complex, engaging characters I’ve ever encountered.
Not all warm fuzzies, by any means—but all so deeply human that you feel the conflict in the heart of even the most (apparently) wicked.
And it’s that sense of deep humanity—perceptive but always compassionate—that makes Penny’s books so remarkable. The plotting is good, the setting magnetic, the characters engaging (and frequently hilarious)—but what Penny does is different from any other author I’ve met. She addresses the deep emotions of the human heart with amazing directness and simplicity. You not only feel for the characters; after closing one of her books, you feel that you’ve touched truth.
Now, it is a long-running series: THE LONG WAY HOME is the tenth book, and the series evolves beautifully from the first, the slightly off-beat STILL LIFE, to the truly stunning latest.
I had the pleasure of meeting Louise for the first time day before yesterday; she was in town to do a signing for THE LONG WAY HOME at the Poisoned Pen. So should any of you be wanting to check out a new author/series—I can tell you where to get autographed books. <g>
(And if you don’t care about autographs, Penny’s books are of course available on Amazon and all the other usual retail sources.)
You can also check out Louise Penny’s official home page at:
September 12, 2014
*”People Picks: A Dozen Cool Things to See, Hear, Read and Download This Week,” edited by Tom Gliatto, Steven J. Snyder, and Kim Hubbard. THE LONG WAY HOME is listed under “Number 2: Best New Books.” From the September 8, 2014 issue of People magazine, Volume 82, Number 10. Link to web archive listing.
This page was last updated on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:02 a.m. (PDT).