Working as an author of mystery novels for quite some time now, the Canadian writer Louise Penny is well regarded for her compelling and intricately woven thrillers. Creating interesting characters, the main one being Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, she gives her stories a personality all of their own, setting them apart from the rest. Published worldwide in over twenty-three different languages, she’s got fans far and wide, as her work resonates with readers from a variety of backgrounds. Highly gifted in the art of suspense, she manages to draw her readers in, keeping them there with her gripping and entertaining narratives.
Starting out in broadcasting, Louise Penny worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where she was employed as a journalist and host. This would provide her with the necessary background when it came to delivering stories to large audiences, as she would later go on to writing for herself full-time. In 2005 she would write Still Life, which would also be the first in her ‘Inspector Armand Gamache’ series of novels featuring the eponymous detective. These would prove to be hugely successful, as they followed Gamache over a series of mysteries, reaching the top of the bestseller lists on numerous occasion. These novels have become her sole focus, as she has fast become a permanent fixture upon the Canadian mystery writing scene, establishing her own award called the ‘Unhanged Arthur’, which is given to the best unpublished first novel.
Later, in 2013, she would finally bring her first novel Still Life to the screen, adapting it for television with CBC TV. Working as Executive Producer on the show, she would also provide the rights for her second Inspector Gamache book, A Fatal Grace, written in 2007. Gaining both commercial and critical success, she’s also gone to on to win the Agatha Award, along with the Anthony, as well as reaching the top of the New York Times bestseller lists, leading to numerous highlights throughout her career.
Best Louise Penny Books
These are, in my own opinion, the top five Louise Penny books:
#5: A Better Man (2019)
With flood waters rising all across the province, Gamache is back in his position as head of the homicide department’s, leading to him being approached by a distraught father wanting to find his missing daughter. Whilst he knows it would probably be best if he concentrated his efforts on restoring order to the chaos of the floods, he feels empathy for the father of Vivienne Godin, the missing girl. Taking criticism from all quarters and across social-media, Gamache is up against the elements, which is when a body is found and mistakes ensue.
As a strong character, Inspector Gamache’s an individual trying to do the right thing, which is more than evident here. Getting to the heart of who he is and what he’s about, Penny expertly manages a balancing act between story and character development. Being the fifteenth book in the series as well, the world has been finely tuned, giving fans exactly what they want, whilst also not alienating newcomers at the same time.
#4: A Fatal Grace (2006)
Preparations for Christmas are underway in the village of Three Pines and everything seems to be going to plan, all whilst a murder is also set to take place. Having more enemies than friends, it came as no surprise that CC de Poitiers was murdered, leading to Inspector Gamache undertaking the case. It would seem like he has his work cut out for him, though, as she was electrocuted in front of everyone whilst watching a curling competition, leading Gamache to believe he’s on the trail of a criminal genius.
This is a great straight-forward mystery, in what is only the second title in the series, with the world of Three Pines already being so richly drawn. The writing is so grounded, real and down-to-earth, it allows you to feel as if you have a first-hand understanding of the characters. With the mystery itself, you’re pulled in from the very first page, as it’s an addictive and highly entertaining read that really exemplifies what’s best about Penny’s writing.
#3: How the Light Gets In (2013)
It appears that all of Inspector Gamache’s long-term friends have disappeared, and now, with Christmas on the horizon yet again, he feels more alone than ever. Hearing from one old friend, Myrna, in Three Pines, he quickly takes the opportunity to travel back there, only to discover that Myna’s friend has vanished. This leads Gamache into an investigation, as he must locate the missing friend, all whilst finding out who’s still loyal to him.
This book is definitely one for fans, as it fully delivers on the previous narrative arcs of the prior novels. It also manages to take the story in new and fun directions yet again, creating a deeper more textured world, with richly defined characters. The mystery itself is well crafted as always, making this a perfect addition to the Inspector Gamache franchise, giving his character a fresh new perspective.
#2: Still Life (2005)
Set in the small-town of Three Pines, Quebec, everyone is waking up on another beautiful Thanksgiving morning, all apart from one individual. Jane Neal, a popular member of the community, is found murdered with an arrow in the maple woods nearby the town. Now Inspector Gamache must do what he does best, and uncover the truth behind the, until recently, quiet and idyllic town.
This is the perfect series opener for thriller fans, delivering a taut and intelligent mystery pretty much straight away. Instantly feeling as if you know the characters too, each member from the town has their own unique and idiosyncratic personality as well. Inspector Gamache himself is also instantly engaging, with his distinctive traits that let you immediately understand who he is.
#1: A Great Reckoning (2016)
Discovered in the local Three Pines bistro, there’s an ancient map, which is then given as a gift to Inspector Gamache as he settles into his new job. This map then takes him on a journey, as it appears to have many strange secrets surrounding it, including bodies along with a copy of the map. With mysterious events surrounding the map itself, mysteries are uncovered leading to more questions, as the investigation soon turns towards Gamache and his own relationship with Amelia, one of the police cadets found with the map copy.
This is a really fun mystery with plenty of twists and turns, as you never really know exactly where it’s going to take you. Always keeping the reader guessing, this is what good mystery novels are made of, as its finely tuned story expertly guides the reader. The characters themselves are also very well drawn, never detracting from the previous novels and overall arc at any given point.
Best Authors To Read If You Like Louise Penny:
Ann Cleeves: The British author of crime fiction Ann Cleeves is well known for creating a number of much loved series, including her Vera Stanhope novels. These have seen television adaptations, with a long running show on ITV in the UK, setting her up as an icon similar to Poirot and Morse. A fixture within the crime thriller literary scene for some time now, she has also sung the praises of Louise Penny’s work as an author too.
Tana French: Whilst some of her stories and subject matter can be a little tougher than Penny’s at times, she creates extremely well crafted mysteries that flow well. Similar to Penny, she intuitively balances her character and stories, looking deep into the psyches of her protagonists in-depth. Recently she has seen her work adapted for television, with the BBC commissioning her first two books into an eight part series.
Michael Connelly: Primarily known for creating his Harry Bosch novels, he’s produced an expansive world around the character who works and resides in LA. Using many elements from the noir genre, he’s brought them into the real-world, with Detective Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch being a fully three-dimensional personality. He’s also gone on to feature in the long-running Amazon Prime television show ‘Bosch’, which has been running for five seasons now.
Elly Griffiths: Going under the pen-name of Elly Griffiths, Domenica de Rosa is a British writer of highly regarded crime fiction novels. Her Ruth Galloway series, which features the eponymous forensic archaeologist operating near Norfolk in the UK, is a series of involving and intriguing mystery stories. Griffiths is also well known for her ‘Stephens and Mephisto Mystery’ series, along with a number of books for children.
C.J. Box: Writer of the Joe Pickett novels, C.J. Box is an American author of mystery fiction and thrillers, with over twenty books to his name. Many of his titles have also been optioned for television, with much of his work having a highly visual and vivid quality to it. There’s also the Cassie Dewell series, which has proven to be popular recently, along with his stand-alone work and short-stories.
Best Podcasts If You Like Louise Penny:
In the Studio – Louise Penny: Looking at how Louise Penny has battled writer’s block as an author, this is an interesting look into her creative process as a writer. Speaking directly to her, it focuses on her Inspector Gamache novels and what went in to creating them.
But That’s Another Story – Louise Penny: This focuses on the books that changed and inspired Louise Penny as an author. Examining the stories that she read when she was younger, it looks in to what made her creatively.
10 Minute Writer’s Workshop – Louise Penny: This provides a brief glimpse in to who Louise Penny is as an author. Paying attention to her creative rituals, it’s an informative examination of where her ideas come from.