I was first introduced to the Inspector Gamache series by Modern Mrs. Darcy. She raved a great deal each time a new novel was published, so I finally picked up the first in the series, Still Life, a couple years ago. It was fabulous. Each installment somehow circles back to the tiny Canadian town of Three Pines, so small and innocuous that it is not found on any maps. Penny gives wonderful descriptions of the lure of Three Pines: the lushness during the summer months, and its deadly beauty during the frozen winter ones. Most of the same characters reappear throughout each book, so while it is not imperative that you start at the beginning with Still Life, you will unavoidably miss out on the character growth that occurs within each previous book as the characters' strengths and weaknesses are revealed.
Inspector Armand Gamache is head of the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force of Quebec. He is everything you would want in such a figure: brave, kind, respectful to all types of people, wise, a consummate family man, determined to find the truth and do his best in each case. Gamache is not portrayed as perfect, but as someone you would want on your side, someone trustworthy. I find his steadiness appealing and his character a good portrayal of the majority of policemen and women. He shares with each of his subordinates the four sentences that lead to wisdom: I'm sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don't know.
I recently finished #6 in the series entitled Bury Your Dead in which Gamache and his team were involved in an investigation and rescue gone wrong, people were killed, and emotional, mental, and physical healing are in play. You do not find out until the end of the book exactly what happened, but the slow build of intensity is felt keenly. In the midst of this, Gamache becomes unintentionally involved in another murder mystery while visiting his former chief in Quebec City. The historical aspects at play in this novel were formerly unknown to me: the animosity between the French and English speakers of Quebec City. I do not know much about Canadian history, but Louise Penny did a great job informing her readers about the issues regarding the separatist movement--those within the province of Quebec who wish to declare sovereignty from the rest of Canada.
Louise Penny is a great writer. She slowly builds upon her story, pulling you in until you are hooked--a bit like a skilled fisherman. I love reading them in autumn and winter because of the cozy vibes Three Pines gives off. I recommend this series to anyone who loves atmospheric mysteries and relishes the idea of having a queue of several books already published and waiting to be read. Book 16 was just released this year. Let me know if you have read any of Penny's books and what you thought!