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Author Post: Louise Penny

Louise Penny is a popular mystery novelist. She has a deft hand with plotting, pace, and character development, plus her setting — The village of Three Pines in Canada — shines.

Penny based her main character Inspector Armand Gamache (of the Sûreté du Québec) on her husband, Michael. Unlike detectives in many mysteries , Gamache is a well-rounded family man who is also good at his job.

People ask if the series should be read in order. My recommendation is that if you are going to read them all, then in order is preferable because they do build on one another. On the other hand, I skipped to the most recent one and was still able to enjoy it without reading all that came before.

Inspector Gamache Books in order:

Still Life (2005)

A Fatal Grace (2007)

The Cruelest Month (2008)

A Rule Against Murder (2009)

The Brutal Telling (2009)

Bury Your Dead (2010)

The Hangman (2010)

A Trick of the Light (2011)

The Beautiful Mystery (2012)

How the Light Gets In (2013)

The Long Way Home (2014)

The Nature of the Beast (2015)

A Great Reckoning (2016)

Glass Houses (2017)

Kingdom of the Blind (2018) –reviewed here

A Better Man (2019) – coming in August


 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

Author Post: Tana French

I have a strong love/hate relationship with Tana French’s novels. I love her writing, especially her pitch perfect dialogue and feel-like-you-are-right-there settings. On the other hand I hate her characters, who are often unreliable narrators sinking down on some sort of negative character arc. They are slippery and slimy, and leave me feeling dissatisfied.

Although the Dublin Murder Squad books are loosely called a series, the main characters change from book to book.

Dublin Murder Squad Books

In the Woods (2007) reviewed for The Bestseller Code challenge

The Likeness (2008) -see below

Faithful Place (2010)

Broken Harbour (2011)

The Secret Place (2014) – on shelf

The Trespasser (2016)

Stand Alone Novels

The Witch Elm (2018) -see below

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Likeness (spoilers)

The premise completely spoiled this one for me. It was so unrealistic that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Plus the undercover detective trapped in a house with a potential killer was more claustrophobic than chilling.

Yes, I disliked the book, but I keep picking up and reading more by this author.

The Witch Elm (spoilers)

Saw it on the shelf at the library and couldn’t leave it there. The main character, Toby Hennessy, proves that he’ll go along with shady dealings early in the book. After he sustains a severe beating and loses parts of his memory (another unreliable narrator!), he’s not at all sure what criminal acts he might have done in the past. Let’s just say his behavior slides downhill from there. Plus he loses his wonderful girlfriend, the only bright spot in the whole book.

On the other hand, the writing is superb. Stephen King describes French’s writing as “smooth, almost satiny prose.” Like ice cream, it is beyond delicious and addictive.

Which is why I picked up The Secret Place for my TBR pile this week. I just can’t help myself.

 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

#BookBeginnings The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

One of my favorite authors,  Lisa Lutz, has a new book coming out in August called The Swallows. To tide me over I grabbed one of her Spellman series, The Last Word  for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Spellmans are an unconventional family (read dysfunctional) of private investigators who often spend more time investigating each other than criminals.

The great thing about the series is that that you could feel comfortable recommending them to a young adult or even your mother because they are devoid of violent murders. Plus, they feature plenty of laughs.

Summary:  In the last novel, Isabel Spellman has staged a coup and taken over her family’s PI business, but nothing is going as planned. As she struggles to keep the business afloat, a former client accuses her of embezzlement and if she doesn’t clear her name, she could lose everything.

First Sentence:

Memo

To All Spellman Employees:

Pants are mandatory.
Footwear is encouraged,

Signed,
The Management

Discussion:

That certainly sets the tone for the novel. Sounds like some of Isabel’s family members are protesting her takeover in creative ways.

What do you think? Have you read one of Lisa Lutz’s novels?

The paperback version is called Spellman Six: The Next Generation. That’s a bit confusing if you are trying to read them in order.

#BookBeginnings Conan Doyle for the Defense

Today I’m reading a true crime novel, Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings- Conan Doyle for the Defense

Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Famous for his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also dabbled in detection. In this true crime book, Margalit Fox reveals that for the last twenty years of his life Conan Doyle worked to free an innocent man convicted of murder.

Beginning:

It was one of the most notorious murders of its age. Galvanizing early twentieth-century Britain and before long the world, it involved a patrician victim, stolen diamonds, a transatlantic manhunt, and a cunning maidservant who knew far more than she could ever be persuaded to tell.

Discussion:

I’ve seen this on two “best of/must read” lists lately, so decided to give it a try. So far I really like the author’s style. She keeps interest running high.

What do you think? Would you like to learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

#BookBeginnings The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Let’s take a look at the extraordinary true crime tale The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Kirk Wallace Johnson investigates the theft of 299 irreplaceable bird specimens from the British Museum of Natural History. On the surface doesn’t seem like a spectacular crime, but what he discovers is an obsession with fly-tying, and a blatant disregard for the value of nature, history and science.

In an interview at This American Life,  Johnson reveals his life was threatened while he researched the book. He and his interviewer also throw around some hilarious bird-related puns.

First Sentence of Prologue:

By the time Edwin Rist stepped off the train onto the platform at Tring, forty miles north of London, it was already quite late.

I like how he answers who, where, and when in the first sentence.

First Sentence of Chapter One

Alfred Russel Wallace stood on the quarterdeck of a burning ship, seven hundred miles off the coast of Bermuda, the planks heating beneath his feet, yellow smoke curling up through the cracks.

Discussion:

That must have been terrifying!

I’ve seen this book on several “best of true crime” lists. I’m looking forward to reading it.

What do you think? Have you read The Feather Thief? Would you like to read it?

 

#BookBeginnings The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Today I’m reading a novel that made a 100 must-read mysteries list, The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  After losing his wife, Detective Dave Robicheaux must survive both grief and the the dark underworld of the New Orleans French Quarter as he investigates the murder of a young prostitute.

This is the first in a series, originally published in 1987.

First Sentence of Chapter One:

The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of the Angola penitentiary,

Discussion:

I love Burke’s lush descriptive language. The first sentence is almost a paragraph itself. It also makes me wonder why he’s there.

Although this is an older novel, I’m looking forward to reading it because it is the first in the series. I enjoy seeing how an author’s style evolves over time.

Have you read anything by James Lee Burke?  If not, what do you think? Would you give this one a try?

Public Domain Photograph by Andrew Schmidt

#BookBeginnings If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

The 2019 Edgar award winners were announced this week and I’m featuring the best paperback original If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin for  Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Aging pop star Aimee En tells the police that a teenager stole her car and used it to run down a local high school football player named Liam Miller. As Miller’s life hangs in the balance, social media portrays Liam as a hero and the suspected car thief Wade Reed as a deranged killer. But are things that simple?

Beginning:

Five days earlier

In bed late at night with her laptop, Jackie Reed sometimes forgot there were others in the house. That’s how quiet it was here, with these hushed boys of hers, always with their heads down, with their shuffling footsteps and their padded sneakers, their muttered greetings, their doors closing behind them.

Discussion:

According to the blurb, the story’s told from multiple points of view. That may explain why the beginning is from Wade Reed’s mother’s point of view.

I think some of you may have already reviewed this. Did you like it?

Have you read anything by Alison Gaylin? Would you like to read this one?

 

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny Review

Time to share thoughts about Louise Penny’s newest novel, Kingdom of the Blind.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when he sees the bizarre terms of the will.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name while at the same time figuring out who murdered one of the heirs.

Read the Acknowledgements For Kingdom of the Blind First

I really wish I had read the acknowledgments before starting the book — they are at the end– because they inform the reading so much. It turns out Louise Penny based her main character Armand Gamache on her husband Michael. In a few sad, wry, warm, stunning paragraphs she reveals how she thought the series was over when her husband passed away. He had been her muse and he was gone.

What happened next is an inspiration to writers. She discovered it is possible to keep writing and even find joy in it. You need to read it in her words, though. Truly a message for the ages.

Throw Out The Rules (Or At Least Loosen Them)

As I mentioned previously, Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf in the mystery section at our local bookstore and her books are very popular. To say she is a successful writer is an understatement. Yet, like another mega-bestselling writer Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), she completely ignores tight/limited third person point of view and blithely “head hops” from character to character, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. From my understanding, the narrator doesn’t feel far enough away from the characters to be truly omniscient, either, so probably would be called third person multiple?

In any case, it appears that third person limited POV is good for beginning writers who have trouble moving from character to character without confusing readers, but masterful writers can loosen up third person point of view successfully and readers seem to prefer it.

Setting, Characters, and Plot

Another reason it is apparent she is a masterful author is that Louise Penny has a wonderful knack with setting (especially her descriptions of snow), is fantastic at developing realistic characters who drive the story, and she knows how to build a complex and believable plot. Many authors can are good at one or two of those. Kudos to Penny for being able to conquer all three.

winter-kingdom-of-the-blind

Public domain image by Larisa Koshkina from Publicdomainpictures.net

Seven Awesome Internet Tools for Writing Realistic Settings

Having a concrete setting in your novel helps orient the reader and can be used to establish the tone, but how do you go about writing realistic settings if your main character travels the world — while you stay at home — or lives in a place far from where you reside?

The answer is research. I’ve made a list of 7 internet tools that can be used to build accurate, realistic settings for novels. To help explore the potential of each tool, let’s run through an example of a novel set on Coronado Island, California, USA.

Tools for Writing Realistic Settings:

1. Google Earth

Google Earth has different versions. You can download a version onto your desktop computer, an app to your Android device, or use it on the web via Google’s Chrome browser (the web-based version doesn’t currently work in other browsers).

Google Earth gives you three dimensional maps that can be an airplane view or a bird’s eye view of a particular location. Many maps are supplemented with videos, guided tours, etc.

Google Earth is particularly helpful for giving you the overall lay of the land, so you know where to stage a romantic picnic for your characters.  Or hide a body, if it is a mystery novel.

2. Google Maps

Chances are you’ve used Google Maps  to find directions to a restaurant or shoe store or your friend’s house. But have you used all its features for writing realistic settings?

(Screenshot used for educational/discussion purposes).

When you first type in a name or address, you will get this map view. See the satellite view in the lower left corner? Click on that for an overall view. Also, see the little yellow guy on the bottom right corner? You can use your mouse to drag him into the map for a street view of a particular location.

 

I plopped him right on the beach, as you can see in the window on the bottom left hand corner.  You can move around at street level and see detailed landmarks. Get an accurate idea of vegetation, architecture, and more. It’s a blast!

Once you have the general details, you may want to return to the map for specific scenes. You can even calculate how long it would take your character to drive from place to place.

3. Wolfram Alpha for Weather

According to Google Maps, that above image was taken in July, 2016. What if you want to set your story in January 1968?  What weather would your characters experience?

Luckily, you can look up historical and current weather information for a given location at Wolfram Alpha. According to my search, it was clear and sunny like this 30% of the time in January in 1968 and the average high was 68° F. It also reveals which days were cloudy, which were foggy, and what the percentages were.

4. SunCalc.Org

Want to send your characters out to have a picnic at sunrise? You can find out what time that would be on a given day and place, where the sun would be in the sky, etc.

5. YouTube Videos

As a writer, you know to add sensory information to make a place more vivid. YouTube videos can help you add both images and sounds to your descriptions.

Although I found videos from Coronado with traffic noise and dogs panting, this would be good for a sunrise at the beach scene.

Don’t forget to include the cultural setting  as well as the physical one. Do the locals have an dialect or accent? Do they celebrate certain holidays?  YouTube can help with those, too.

In My Defens has compiled a wonderful list of videos that feature ambient sounds from different settings that are perfect to listen to while writing. I often use them to drown out background noise.

6. Snap map

This is a pretty new app that allows you to see brief  Snapchat videos that anonymous users have posted at a given location. It is oddly addicting and also an fantastic source of ideas and inspiration.

Add a location to the search box. Once the map comes up, click on the colored areas that indicate hot spots. Even if there aren’t any, sometimes clicking on a location of interest will yield a video or two. When I checked Coronado Island, I found a young woman’s selfie video taken at the beach hours before. You could hear the waves and wind. Her looks, clothing, and what she said were great clues to cultural setting.

Try a few locations and times to get a good idea of Snap Map’s full potential.

7.  Wikipedia

Be sure to utilize the awesome power of Wikipedia, especially since articles are often edited by people with ties to a given location. In addition to information about geography and history of a given place (for example, Coronado), it also offers lists like regional cuisine in the US, regional dialects (check different languages), etc. The links to references can be invaluable, too.

Miscellaneous:

Of course, travel blogs and social media can also help fill in details of a particular setting. Just keep in mind travel blogs which used to be someone’s clunky personal diary of a trip, now may be highly-curated articles and images sponsored by (paid for by) local tourist attractions. If you do manage to find an authentic one, don’t be afraid to ask the blogger or poster questions about local flavor.

With a good sense of place in your mind through careful research, you can cherry-pick specific experiences and details to create a concrete, powerful setting unique to your novel.

What tools did you try? Do you use any others? We’d love to hear about them.

#BookBeginnings Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Today I’m reading Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Penny

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, along with a bookseller named Myrna Landers and a young builder. Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when they read the bizarre terms of the will, which before long leads to murder.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name.

First Sentences of Kingdom of the Blind:

Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

This was it, he supposed. Pulling in, he drove between the tall pine trees until he reached the clearing.

There he parked the car and sat in the warm vehicle looking out at the cold day. Snow flurries were hitting the windshield and dissolving.

Discussion:

The Chief Inspector Gamache series are set in Canada, around Québec and Montreal. I love the way she describes the snow and the cold.

Although this copy is from the library, I noticed that Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf to herself at our local bookstore. Her books are very popular.

Do you think it is surprising that the title is Kingdom of the Blind rather that The Kingdom of the Blind?

Have you read any of this series? What do you think?

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