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Still Life by Louise Penny Summary & Review: The Perfect Murder Mystery for Holiday Season

Mark my words! We can never catch Penny if she ever decides to be a serial killer. Oh boy! I do envy this lady! How could anyone plan such bullet-proof murders (Not an attack on Agatha Christie)?

After finishing Fatal Grace, I instantly got the kick of reading the other books of this Detective Gamache series. So, I walked straight into the library and bought Louise Penny first book, Still Life.

Still Life by Louise Penny Summary

I read Louise Penny A Fatal Grace in a hurry (I was dying to find out who the killer of CC was and thank her personally). But with Still Life, I realized it was better not to rush with Penny’s book. It is more enjoyable that way. So, over the next few days, I lived in Three Pines, made friends with its people, and solved a murder (God! It felt good).

Does it look like I am fangirling Penny? Aggh! Just read this Still Life book summary and review, and let’s see where it takes you. Shall we begin?

Still Life Book Summary: Trying To Ignore Spoilers? This Is for You

Still Life

Miss Jane Neal was found dead on Thanksgiving Sunday. She was shot by an arrow.

Chief Inspector Gamache gets to the crime scene and suspects it is nothing more than a hunting accident. But the investigation says otherwise. The secrets and complex relationships of Three Pines have taken Gamache by surprise.

This is not an accident. Someone planned to kill Miss Jane Neal, and the murderer is hiding in her friend circle.

Gamache blends in the lives of Three Pines just to reveal the mask of the killer, to reveal the motive. Who would benefit from killing a 76-year-old retired school teacher, after all?

When Gamache finally reaches the culprit, he gets another shock. It’s not just Jane Neal. There is more blood on the killer’s hands! Who is the murderer? Read the book to find out.

Still Life by Louise Penny Summary: Jane Was Killed for This? Spoiler Ahead!

Someone said it right. Still Life book revolves around art, luck, and love. Truly, these are the essence of this novel and the keys to the murder mystery. Sounds too poetic? Alert! Things are going to get a lot more artistic in the book. Let’s start from the beginning.

Still Life Louise Penny Spoiler

An Unexpected Murder at Three Pines

The plot of Still Life book circles around the people of Three Pines, a village hidden in the valley of Québec. Man! Shouldn’t we just declare Three Pines as the heaven on earth? Not just because of its beauty but for the people.

Here is a quote to help you understand the neighborhood in this village. “The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time.”

Has anyone thought there could be a murder in this Utopia? The dead body of 76-year-old Jane Neal has really created chaos around the village. Ben Hadley, a friend and neighbor of Jane, has found her in the snow and called the police.

Gamache rushes to the scene with Nichol, a trainee. His second officer, Beauvoir, fills him in the case.

Jane was shot with an arrow. There is an opening and exit wound. But the arrow is nowhere to be seen.

Well, this could be one of those hunting accidents. Such incidents are common around the region in the hunting season. But the arrow can not evaporate on its own. The murderer must have taken the arrow with him/her to wipe out any trace of evidence.

Or is it a hunting accident, after all? The killer might have panicked and run with the arrow. That is the natural response for any normal person.

But wait a second! What was Jane doing out early in the morning? Was she walking her dog? Of course not! Lucy is nowhere around her.

Gamache is swamped with questions! He is a stranger in this village and does not know where to start. But it is Gamache we are talking about! He always finds a way in!

The Entire Three Pines Mourns Together

How could anyone kill Jane? She was a harmless, lovely lady. After retiring from teaching, Jane spent her days painting. Yes, our victim was an artist. Her death seems to devastate everyone in Three Pines, especially Clara.

Clara was younger than Jane, but these two hit it off instantly. Peter, Clara’s husband, is confused. Should he cry or be jealous? He wonders whether Clara will mourn for him as she is doing for Jane (our dude Peter is really insecure).

Myrna, the black therapist of Three Pines, and Ruth Zadro, the poet, struggle to find any word. Why are their friends leaving one by one? Timmer, Ben’s mom, died just a month ago. They were still recovering from that death, and now this incident with Jane. What’s going on?

Ben is in even more shock. He just lost his mother and now Jane. It seems like destiny does not want him to be happy.

Gabri and Olivier, the gay couple of Three Pines, also feel the blow. Jane was more than their customer. She was a friend. How could they not see Jane was in danger?

When the entire Three Pines is weeping, Gamache is watching them with an eagle eye. If Jane was killed, the murderer has to be one of these mourners!

The Mysteries of Jane Neal

Wasn’t Jane the kindest? She stood by her friends no matter what. She would take a bullet even for strangers. Why would anyone kill such an angel?

It is not Jane’s goodness that has disturbed Gamache but her weird habits. For starters, Jane was an artist, but not a single soul in Three Pines has ever seen her paintings. If someone tried to peek at the canvas, Jane would get angry, and there was no escape.

Surprisingly, it was only recently that Jane had submitted her painting, Fair Day, for an art exhibition. Oh! You can not ignore the fuss the painting created on the judging panel. They could barely decode the sticky figures scribbled on the canvas.

Awful! Disgusting! These were the expressions from the judges. But soon, everything made sense. It felt like Jane’s painting was an illusion. The more you stare at it, the clearer it gets. Clara and Peter were on the jury, and they could see where Jane got the inspiration.

Jane portrayed a scene of the Fair Day. It was supposed to be a celebration, but it ended up being a tragedy. That very day, Timmer died. So, they figured it was a tribute.

The paintings are the least of Gamache’s concerns. The second mystery was quirkier. Jane had never let anyone inside her house. I mean, no one can cross the kitchen. In fact, Clara, Jane’s best friend, was banned from inside, too. Why was that?

Gamache has to find out. But guess what? Yolande, Jane’s niece, has already taken over the house. She will not allow a soul to get into her aunt’s house. It’s her inheritance, and she doesn’t care about the murder.

Right! The inheritance! Could Yolande be our killer? Anyone would murder people for millions. No?

The Rebel Without Cause

Just to stretch the suspect’s list, Gamache starts digging into the past stories. An insignificant incident grabs Gamache’s attention. Three young boys threw manure at Gabri and Olivier’s B&B a few days back. Jane was present at that moment, and she recognized those three.

Would it be possible that one of them came for revenge? These young bloods with fragile egos get hurt by anything.

One of those manure boys was Phillipe, son of Matthew. Apparently, Matthew is a pro hunter, and he had beef with Jane years ago.

Could this son and father duo kill Jane? In most cases, there is no solid cause for a murder. People might kill each other for a lollipop. Why? I would answer if I could read criminal minds.

A search of Matthew’s house changed the direction of this murder case. Gamache and his team are now sure that Phillipe is the killer. They have the evidence.

But hey! You know teenagers, right? Phillipe accuses his dad of the murder. Call it a hunch or whatever! Gamache knew Phillipe was lying. But police work can not depend on gut feelings, no? So, Matthew gets arrested, and the Three Pines can now sleep in peace.

Still Life (Penny Novel)

Of Course, The Case Is Not Closed Yet

Now, when the killer is locked, Jane’s friends arrange a ceremony to say goodbye to her. They gather at the place of Jane’s murder and put a ribbon as a symbol of freedom and happiness. It is at this moment when Clara notices an arrow hanging up in the tree. She knows this is the tip that has taken her friend’s life.

The arrow has clarified one thing. Matthew is not the killer. But if he is innocent, who is the murderer?

By now, Gamache reveals new pieces of information. Jane had left her house and inheritance to Clara, not Yolande. Does it mean Clara and Peter, the struggling artists, are behind the murder?

Aghh! Too much work! But the suspect list can wait.

First, Gamache rushes to Jane’s house just to see what secrets it holds. Oh, good Lord! Jane had used the entire house as her canvas.

The people of Three Pines are alive on every corner of Jane’s house. Looking at this life-size canvas, Gamache knew the murderer was hiding in these walls. He must act quickly!

Fair Day Reveals The Murderer

Jane’s work, Fair Day, goes on exhibition and is a huge hit. Apparently, people are still more interested in dead artists than living ones.

But wait a second! This wasn’t the painting Jane had submitted. Someone has tampered with those stick-figure faces. Clara instantly realizes who the killer is, BEN.

Oh, poor Ben! He found Jane’s body in the snow, and he knew about the Fair Day. He has access to the exhibition gallery, and re-painting the faces is a child’s play for him. But why would Ben go to this extent? What did Jane do to him?

Clara decides not to disclose this truth yet. First, she must confront Ben. He is Peter’s best friend, after all.

But our sweet little Ben is in no mood for discussion or explanation. He attacks Clara and stages an entirely new plot to put all the blame on Peter, yes, his best friend.

Thank God Gamache is still there in Three Pines. He gets to Clara just in time and arrests Ben for the murder of TIMMER and JANE. Don’t get so surprised. I told you the murderer had more blood on his hand. And yes, Ben had killed his own mother!

Why Were the Killings?

Damn! We live with people like Ben. All they want is sympathy from others. They will portray themselves as victims, but in reality, they are the villains.

Timmer could sense the evil in Ben. She wanted his son to see the real world and live on his own, not on the family money.

How dare that old woman say such a thing? Ben was furious.

So, he killed his mother on Fair Day before she could change the will.

Jane’s paintings on Fair Day made Ben very uncomfortable. He felt exposed to the world for his crime. To cover up his previous murder, he decided to take another life.

His attempts to escape the murders were almost successful until he tampered with Jane’s painting. Only if he hadn’t done that, the Jane Neal murder case would be closed by now!

My Honest Review of Still Life Book Louise Penny

Life was far from harried here. But neither was it still.

Still Life Book Review

Doesn’t this last line of Still Life book describe the entire plot? I think Louise Penny deserves the compliment for coming up with the best titles (Unlike Grisham, who comes up with the most random names for his books). How thoughtful!

Well, I am not one of those people who judges the book by the cover.

But… Shouldn’t we at least talk about it? Frankly speaking, the cover of Still Life book is the worst part of this book (in my view).

The designer could have done better (Come on! Show some creativity. This novel is all about artists). I doubt those readers with aesthetic taste will ever pick up this novel.

Okay! Let’s move to the plots.

Three Pines is somewhere I would definitely like to live. Come on! Who doesn’t want to be in heaven?

I am familiar with Penny’s murder style. No blood-shedding or gore stuff. A clean shot and the victim is dead. This time, she used an arrow to kill Jane. Impressive indeed!

Gamache was laid back in this novel. Or maybe Penny was still trying to give a voice to this star character. For whatever reason, I connected more with the Gamache of Fatal Grace (Yup, I am an idiot and have read the 2nd book of the series’ first).

Is it just me, or can you also see the reflection of Agatha Christie in Penny’s writing? The way Penny builds up the plot, she has definitely learned from the best. She can elegantly hold the pace and serenity of the story.

I wouldn’t say Still Life book will give you a dopamine kick on every page. Definitely not! There is suspense in the book. You want to know what’s waiting on the next page.

But still, you take time to turn the page. Every line, every character, every story, is important. It may not be for the murder case but for the people around Three Pines. The kindness, the banter among friends, the laughter, everything has reminded me of my friends.

Don’t worry! The book is not all about investigation! Ruth’s poems are all over the novel to keep you entertained. These verses will make you think about life and death.

I knew Ben was the killer and Clara would inherit Jane’s property. That is the perk (!) of reading the second novel first (Who knew I would get the spoiler?).

However, the spoilers could not spoil my mood. I enjoyed the book anyway. There are so many details and twists that you only get by reading the novel. I especially liked the ending of Still Life book. The arrest of Ben was sad and shocking. Yet, I had no sympathy for this psychopath.

What more can I say about this book? Penny hasn’t just written a murder mystery but showed us a mirror of life. Here are two of my favorite quotes from Still Life book.

“Life is a choice. All day, every day…. And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful.”

“Evil is unspectacular and always human and shares our bed and eats at our own table.”

I Adore These Characters from Still Life Book

Louise Penny has always managed to entertain us with memorable characters in her books. She tells a story, shares little details between two people, and there you go. You suddenly know them.

Armand Gamache

Every policeman is brave and courageous. No doubt. But I wonder how many of them have their own principles? Well, not everyone is like Gamache. He is a man of dignity.

Gamache is patient, observant, and truly talented. This man owned my respect when he refused to arrest Matthew because of the hunch. It shows Gamache’s “Don’t Care” attitude. We all want such fearless officers on the team. No?

We have to give respect to Gamache for his patience with Nichol, too. That woman had almost ruined the case. But thanks to Gamache, he had solved the murder and saved Clara from danger anyway.

Clara & Peter

Peter has no huge role in Still Life. He is there as a side character for Clara and a best friend to Ben. That’s all.

But Clara! My God! She has stolen hearts with this novel.

For a moment, you will feel like Clara is the officer in charge. She is the one who has spotted the arrow, tipped Gamache about the updated will, and dude! Clara reaches the killer before the police (Gamache, fire your team and hire this artist).


I am angry with Penny for not giving Myrna enough attention. Trust me. This character has huge potential. In fact, her role in solving the murder went unnoticed. If Myrna hadn’t hinted to Gamache about the mental condition of Ben, he would have never gotten to the real killer.

Ruth, Olivier, and Gabri

I almost laughed when Gamache suspected Ruth. Sure, our poet has a hard shell. But isn’t she a softie inside? She can only be cruel in her poems, not in real life.

Aren’t Olivier and Gabri the sweetest? Their kindness touched me personally. What Gamache said to them really stayed with me. When you go through so much torture in your life, you can barely be cruel to others.

Even after the manure incident, Olivier and Gabri took no step against Phillipe. Once they realized Phillipe was gay, this couple did everything to make the little boy comfortable.

Do I Recommend Still Life?

Yes, I personally love Still Life book. As I said, I was in Three Pines the whole time. But it does not mean I will force you to read this novel.

Let me be very honest. Many of my friends didn’t like this light murder mystery. They were looking for more blood and brutality. According to some of them, Penny sounded confused on many pages.

Well, I am not here to defend anyone. But sure, the best Louise Penny books might not suit everyone’s taste. Her way of approaching murders and solving cases is very different. Penny’s stories are more about life and less about the killings. At least, that is what I have felt.

Go and give this book a read if you like the holiday murder mysteries. I have left out a ton of details. So, yes, you can still enjoy the novel. Also, a film adaptation of Still Life book is available.

I heard the movie is trash (Not lying. Check the IMDb ratings). However, when were the book adaptation on films good anyway?

Until I return with The Cruelest Month summary and study guide of Gamache series#3, you can enjoy other book suggestions from our page.