Thanks, Louise Penny, for reminding us of what’s warm,
welcoming and a bit silly.
It’s usually winter in Three Pines, a village hidden in a forested Canadian valley somewhere between Quebec City and Montreal. The enchanting hamlet doesn’t actually exist, although it should, and many of us prefer to think it does. Author Louise Penny created this tiny burg out of her imagination and bits and pieces of the Eastern Townshipsof Quebec, Canada, just north of the Vermont border.
Having read all of Penny’s books about this quirky but welcoming place, I understand why Penny seldom sets her stories in spring or summer. The frigid Canadian weather allows the residents to gather around fires in the bistro or in the home of one friend or another, to share bowls of steaming soup and fresh bread, to demonstrate physical and emotional warmth and, of course, to help the wise and indestructible Chief Inspector Armand Gamache work out his latest mystery.
The warmth is more potent when pitted against intense cold. The light is stronger when compared with the dark. And it’s easy to overlook that Penny writes a good deal about evil and violence because those become just dark shadows in an otherwise hospitable world. The mystery part of her novels is incidental. We’re there for the people.
The hub of Three Pines is the village green around which the bistro, bookstore, bakery and B&B are all grouped and where the three trees grow, within walking distance of the homes of the oddball inhabitants: Ruth, the renowned poet who nurtures nothing but her foul-mouthed duck; Myrna, a retired psychologist who owns the cozy bookstore; Clara, the artist whose work is far more complicated than it appears; Gabri and Olivier who run the bistro and B&B, gay men who have found a home in this tolerant town; and Armand and his wife Reine-Marie, who adore one another 35-plus years into marriage.
The group meets often for meals and drinks and problem-solving, often related to crimes, often related to their personal lives, always related to food. Book by book, these characters become closer to one another, grow more fully themselves, and build a community too delightful to be real, although readers can dream.
Travel bureaus in the Eastern Townships know a winner when they see it, and they provide maps, web sites, and formal tours of favorite places in the Gamache novels. The bistro where the gang meets? It could be one of several in Knowlton. The church where the body of the mysterious debt collector was found? It’s just outside Sutton. The monastery where Gamache investigated the death of the music director? It’s the gorgeous Abbaye De St-Benoit-Du-Lac, or St. Benedicts on Lake Memphremagog. Try to say that with a mouth full of brioche. READ MORE.