Louise Penny, rural Québecois village life and intricate plots
by Steven Williams
Louise Penny was born in 1958 in Toronto. Penny began her professional career as a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto and moved, as part of her job, to Thunder Bay at the far tip of Lake Superior, in Ontario. There, she worked as a radio host and acknowledges that it was here that she learned a great deal about both the business of radio and the art of interviewing, especially regarding the importance of listening. Penny moved on to Winnipeg and the production of documentaries as well as the hosting of a CBC afternoon radio show. She next moved to Quebec City in order to take advantage of an opportunity to host a morning program, which provided a much larger audience. The next move was to Montreal to host another afternoon program. It was after moving to Montreal that Penny met her future husband. It was also at this point that Penny decided to begin writing traditional mysteries. She currently lives with her husband in a small village south of Montreal near the American border.
Since the publication of her first novel, Still Life, Penny has gone on to produce three critically well-received and popular mysteries. It should be noted that though Penny is frequently described as a writer of 'Cozy' style mysteries, her stories should be considered closer to the styling and structure of Golden Age 'Whodunits' style mysteries. Whodunit mysteries generally have a complex, plot-driven story with the puzzle usually being the most important focus of the book. A Whodunit also usually provides the reader with all the clues necessary to identity of the perpetrator of the crime, frequently the least likely suspect. It is notable that the actual villains are revealed as completely plausible despite being the least likely perpetrator. Penny's style of 'Whodunit' mystery is notable for their recreation of rural Québecois village life and social structure. As an additional note, Penny and her husband own two golden retrievers and are dedicated supporters of the SPCA and the no-kill shelter near their home.
Still Life (2006)
Still Life was Louise Penny's first novel. This mystery introduced Armand Gamache, the main character Penny has brought back in her subsequent two mystery novels, A Fatal Grace (Dead Cold in the UK and Canada) and The Cruelest Month. He is Chief Inspector of the Surêté du Québec (Safety of Quebec, also known as the Quebec Provincial Police). Gamache's investigative team is called in to examine a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. The victim was found in the woods and the initial ruling was that the death had been caused by a hunting accident. Suspicious locals have asked that circumstances surrounding this death be re-examined as a possible homicide. The dead woman was the village's retired schoolteacher and so the tragedy has affected the entire village. Inspector Gamache and his team soon uncover a sinister reality, one that points to dark secrets in the seemingly peaceful, friendly village. Still Life won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel from the Crime Writers of Canada, the New Blood Dagger Award from the Crime Writers' Association, and the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. It was named one of the Kirkus Reviews top ten mysteries of 2006. In addition to awards won, Still Life was also a runner-up for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award for Unpublished Authors of Fiction.
A Fatal Grace (US) or Dead Cold (UK and Canada) (2007)
A sadistic socialite is fatally and spectacularly electrocuted while attending the annual Boxing Day curling match held by a small Québecois village. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache's team begins checking into the circumstances behind the murder beginning with the dead woman's spiritual guidance business. The investigation turns up too many suspects with direct and close associations with the victim as well as good motives for the killing because the victim seems to have been almost universally disliked. Circumstances are not as they first appear though and soon the team uncovers links to the recent murder of a vagrant as well as earlier deaths of local villagers. Things are especially difficult for Chief Inspector Gamache because he has his own enemies within the Surêté du Québec (Safety of Quebec, also known as the Quebec Provincial Police). A Fatal Grace has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Novel.
The Cruelest Month (2008)
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team are called to investigate another bizarre crime in another rural French Canadian Québec village. The problem for the local villagers began after a séance with a visiting psychic ends abruptly when the psychic collapses, apparently dying from fright. The group had gathered at an old house associated with local stories of possession by evil spirits. The idea had been to have the psychic exorcise the evil spirits from the building. Even though the team discovers that no one in town has anything bad to say about the visiting psychic, Inspector Gamache is certain that there is something else going on. As the investigation progresses it is complicated by Gamache's problems with one of his superiors. Gamache has previously accused one of his most popular superiors with involvement in some terrible crimes. Because of this, Gamache must pursue his investigation in the village with the almost certain assumption that this vengeful superior has planted a mole within Gamache's investigative team; planted with there to discover potential prosecutable or at least discrediting facts about Gamache. The Chief Inspector finds himself working hard both to clear his own name as well as to discover the actual facts behind the murder of the visiting psychic.
Cozy Mysteries are a sub-genre of mysteries that is also known as 'English' style Whodunits or Golden Age Whodunits. As a variant of the whodunit detective mystery, the English or Golden Age style is noted for an inclination towards the use of a gifted amateur as the primary investigator of the murder instead of an official detective or police officer. Some of the most recognized writers in this style are Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Michael Innes, Nicholas Blake, Christianna Brand and Edmund Crispin. Notable American writers who mimicked the English style include S. S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr, and Ellery Queen.
Arthur Ellis Award
The Arthur Ellis Awards are given out by Crime Writers of Canada (also known as CWA), a national organization of Canadian crime writers, associated professionals (i.e., publishers, agents, booksellers, etc.), and anyone else with a serious interest in Canadian crime writing (i.e., aspiring authors, fans, librarians, etc.). Its published mission is to promote Canadian crime writing and promote awareness of Canadian crime writers. The Arthur Ellis Awards are named after the pseudonym of Arthur B. English, a British man who became the Canadian government's official hangman in 1913. He worked in this position until the bungled execution of Thomasina Sarao in Montreal in 1935 during which she was accidentally decapitated instead of just being hung. The Arthur Ellis Award is given annually out for seven categories: Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best First Novel, Best True Crime Book, Best Juvenile Crime Book, Best French Crime Writing, and the Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel. In addition to the annual Arthur Ellis Awards, there are special awards occasionally given out for Best Play as well as for Best Genre Criticism or Reference. There is also a Derrick Murdoch Award for special achievement that is given out by the CWA president. For a work to be considered for an Arthur Ellis Award, it must be written for the crime genre and published for the first time in the previous year either by an author or authors living in Canada regardless of their nationality, or by Canadian author or authors who are living outside of Canada. The nominees in all categories are usually announced in late April and then presented at the annual Arthur Ellis Awards dinners, usually held later during the summer.
The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) gives out the Dilys Awards. The Dilys Award is given out annually to for the one mystery title that member booksellers most enjoyed hand selling. The award was named to honor of Dilys Winn who founded Murder Ink, the first specialty mystery bookstore in the United States. IMBA is a trade association of retail businesses either entirely or mostly devoted to the sale of mystery fiction. Each Dilys Award is presented at the annual Left Coast Crime convention. Left Coast Crime is an organization established to hold annual mystery conventions, which are sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans, and focus on writing mystery fiction. They are held during the first quarter of each calendar year.
The Crime Writers' Association gives out the annual Dagger Awards. The Crime Writers' Association is a UK organization made up of commercially published authors and people from related industries. Only British publishers can submit nominations for Dagger Awards. For a work to be considered for nomination it must have been published in the English language in the United Kingdom within a limited period of time. The number, names, and variety of Dagger Awards have varied over time. Publishers can submit the same book for all relevant award categories and it is for a work to receive more than one Dagger Award. The most recent Dagger Award categories are: The Cartier Diamond Dagger (a lifetime achievement award), The Duncan Lawrie Daggers The Gold and Silver Daggers (the year's best and runner up crime novels written in English), The Duncan Lawrie International Dagger (the year's best crime novel translated into English from another language), The John Creasey Memorial Award (the year's best crime novel by a previously unpublished writer or writers), The Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller, The Short Story Dagger, The Ellis Peters Historical Dagger (the year's best crime novel with a crime theme and a historical background of any period up to the 1960s), The Debut Dagger Award (the year's best crime novel written in the English language and whose author has not been published before), The CWA Last Laugh Dagger (for the year's most humorous crime novel), and The Dagger in the Library (for the living author who has given most pleasure to readers that year as determined by UK librarians).
The Agatha Awards are fan-generated literary awards for mystery and crime authors that are given out by Malice Domestic. Malice Domestic is an annual mystery fan convention held in metropolitan Washington, DC that celebrates the traditional mystery as typified by Agatha Christie's mystery novels. Malice Domestic convention registrants and members of 'Friends of Malice' receive nomination ballots in January. For works to be nominated, they must have been submitted to Malice Domestic for consideration for nomination by their publishers within the previous year. The Agatha Awards are given out at the subsequent annual Malice Domestic convention and they are given out for five categories: Best Novel, Best First Mystery, Best Short Story, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Children's or Young Adult Mystery. Agatha Award nominees must have a number of characteristics. Any work considered for an Agatha Award must have been published first in the United States plus it needs to have been written by a living author. Publication of considered works may be as hardcover editions, paperback original editions, or e-published editions. For any mystery to be considered for any of the Agatha Award categories, it must contain no explicit sex, excessive gore, or unjustified violence. Agatha Award nominees almost always feature an amateur detective as well as always taking place within a confined setting (i.e., a 'closed room', country house, or small town). Agatha Award nominated works also always contain main characters that know one another. 'Hard Boiled' mysteries are explicitly not considered for Agatha Awards.
See also the related BookmarcsOnline Blogspot article:
Modern Mystery Genres, proliferation in popular fiction styles
Older Article: Jacqueline Winspear, a vivid recreator of Britain between the wars
Louise Penny, rural Québecois village life and intricate plots by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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