I wrote the author statement on Penny for NoveList, subscribers can find the full one there, but here is some paraphrasing of what I said about Penny's overall appeal:
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache works in the of the Sûreté du Québec. He is a man of moral integrity, who is very intelligent, loves to eat, and has the loyalty of his colleagues. While Gamache is the main attraction here, readers also enjoy her cast of secondary characters, especially the residents of Three Pines, a town near the American border. These books have a timeless feel, and the tone is one of hope and resilience despite adversity. The mysteries themselves are intricate and quirky, while their pacing reflects the thoughtful pace of Gamache himself.Every single one of the books in the series has been highly praised. The series is also one of my go-to suggestions when I am having trouble finding a reader something "good." It works for those who want a gentler story (read: murders without much blood) but it is also complex enough for readers who want a mystery with meat. These are nuanced tales which not only explore the psychological affects of crime on those in a community, but also look at the moral ambiguity of all people. These books remind us that no one is all good or all bad.
Also, most readers find the setting, French Canada just exotic enough without being too foreign. The setting 's details are fabulous too. I feel like I have been to Three Pines myself.
In terms of the murder here, again someone in Three Pines has died; this time of what appears to be a deliberate and elaborately staged electrocution. Gamache returns to his favorite little town to solve the case. The murdered woman it turns out, was not well liked in town. I was not shocked by who committed the murder, but the secrets Gamache uncovers about many of the characters kept me reading.
My favorite parts though are the descriptions of the town and the people. I love how Penny talks about all of the layers of clothing needed in the coldest days of winter and how people know each other by their hats. Her details about the way food smells, the winter landscape looks, and the people move about keep me reading.
If you want to start at the beginning, try Still Life, and if you are already a fan, get on the list for A Trick of the Light, coming out on 8/30/11.
Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature): Three Pines, Canada in the dead of winter. Brrrrr.
Three Words That Describe This Book: character-centered, detailed, nuanced
More Appeal and Readalikes: Here is some of what I said when I read Still Life last year:
This book is for fans of smart cozies: fairly bloodless mysteries which are character centered, with interesting settings, that still contemplate larger issues. The overall tone here is fun, but can move to serious and thoughtful at times. Gamache is a complex lead investigator who is always thinking, teaching, and observing.
The point of view is interesting. It is 3rd person omniscient, which allows us to see what just about everyone is thinking at any and all times. Penny moves between people and their thoughts very fluidly. People will either love this pov or hate it.
The setting is detailed with lots of information about the issues between the "French" and the "English" in Quebec. Three Pines feels like a place you want to go visit, sit in the cafe, walk in the woods, and chat with the characters. This is a huge appeal that cannot be overlooked. Even cosmopolitan Montreal resident Gamache cannot seem to get enough of this charming small town, despite one resident's murderous impulses.
Penny's series is also for people who like series because once you read Still Life, you will be compelled to keep going with the series. These are people and a town you will want to visit again and again.
Other mystery authors who share this overall appeal and are good matches for fans of Penny are Alan Bradley, Peter Robinson, Deborah Crombie, and Jacqueline Winspear.
Nonfiction options would include books about Quebec and/or books on the separatist movement there. Also, people may want to know more about archery. I would also suggest Tracy Kidder's Hometown, a nonfiction account of a small town in MA.To these suggestions, I would also add:
- PD James (police procedural, character driven, explore the psychological affects of crime, strong settings, middle aged inspectors)
- Charles Todd (character driven, psychological affects, strong setting, layered plots)
- Julia Spencer-Fleming (strong setting, character driven, compelling)
- Donna Leon (police procedural, character driven, moral issues, great secondary characters, strong setting)
- Benjamin Black (a bit darker, but psychological aspects, strong setting, complex, nuanced)