A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny read by Ralph Cosham

Imagine a big black woman, Myrna from Montreal, who decides to drive South, but feels peckish after an hour and a half and so stops and bumps into a one-vache town, a fairy-tale town:

Three Pines had what she craved. It had croissants and cafe au lait. It had steak frites and the New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B & B, a general store, it had peace and stillness and laughter. It had great joy and great sadness ….

It had sweet gay couples and poor married artists and old unmarried women; it had village size problems and village size evil and village style murder. It had Christmas, and at Christmas, “homes full of people there and not there,” yakking away in English and French. Myrna never leaves. Inspector Gamache, on the other hand, comes and goes. Each time there is a murder.

The bistro was his secret weapon in tracking down murderers. Not only in Three Pines but in every town and village in Quebec. First he found a comfortable cafe or brasserie or bistro. Then he found the murderer. Because Armand Gamache knew something that others didn’t. At the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped no doubt, twisted and ugly, but an emotion. One so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost. Gamash’s job was to collect the evidence. But also to collect the emotions. And the only way he knew to do that was to get to know the people. To watch and listen, to pay attention. And the best way to do that was in a deceptively casual manner, in a deceptively casual setting. Like the bistro.

Still Life by Louise Penny read by Ralph Cosham

Even little old Canadian villages have murders, and artists. Jane Neal lived and painted in a big house and kept both her canvases and her home private. Except for the kitchen. To it she invited her circle of friends and fellow-artists, poor and English speaking. They and their language migrate to Three Pines to continue the war between French and English sensibilities.

The death of Jane Neal re-invokes these French and English factions, in a series of tense encounters between Police Inspector Gamache and the local folks: the usual suspects.

The plot is crisp and economical, but the descriptions are sweet, pastoral, even poignant. We want to know who murdered Jane because we like her more and more as we reconnoitre her life.

Every day for Lucy’s entire dog life Jane had sliced a banana for breakfast and had miraculously dropped one of the perfect disks to the floor where it sat for an instant before being gobbled up….Every morning Lucy’s prayers were answered, confirming her belief that God was old and clumsy and smelled like roses… and lived in the kitchen.