“The Long Way Home” Book Tour

Thanks to my sweet mother-in-law, I had a ticket to see Louise Penny speak at Fearrington Village last night. What a turn-out they had! 500 people with tickets, and a standing crowd in the back. Chatting with the people around us before the event began, we learned that people had come from Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and even Alabama to see Penny.

The format for the event was really enjoyable. Rather than doing a reading or giving a prepared talk, Louise and her publisher (Andy Martin, from St. Martin’s imprint Minotaur), sat in big armchairs on a stage and engaged in a funny, informal Q&A about Penny’s work. It was clear from their interaction that they are good friends as well as colleagues, and so the whole event had a conversational, relaxed tone.

It was great to hear Penny talk about how she got into writing. Martin asked her when she first knew she wanted to be an author, and Penny recalled her experience reading Charlotte’s Web. Penny said that her worldview when she was a child was fairly bleak – the world was a scary place, people were inherently bad, and the safest place she could be was in her room reading books. She said she was scared of so many things, but one of her greatest fears was spiders. Penny recalled vividly being about halfway through Charlotte’s Web when she had two major revelations:

  1. Charlotte was a spider.
  2. Penny loved her anyway.

She said that, from that moment on, she understood that stories must be very powerful if they could so completely wipe away one of her fears. She knew then that she wanted to be a writer.

Having said all that, Penny freely admits that when she was writing Still Life, she never thought her books would be published. When Martin asked her to explain how she formed the character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, she said that her original intent was for Gamache to be a very dark, deeply flawed man who struggled from some sort of addiction or mental illness. But then she realized that she would be living in this man’s head for the foreseeable future, and so instead she created a man whose company she imagined she would love to spend time in. Penny said she was so pleased with herself for writing such a cultured, intuitive, fine character, and then she looked across the breakfast table one morning and realized she hadn’t created him at all – she’d simply written her husband, Michael.

If you like Louise Penny, and you’ve read all her books and are looking for something to try, she did mention that three of her favorite authors are Deborah Crombie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Rhys Bowen.  Listening to Penny speak and watching her interact with her readers has definitely convinced me that I’ve got to get back into her series. I’ve got eight books to catch up on before I can start The Long Way Home.

Happy Release Day, Louise Penny!

long way home

Today’s book birthday is Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home. This is actually the 10th book in Penny’s mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Two of the most consistent comments I see in reviews of Penny’s books are that her characters seem as familiar as your friends and that her setting is so intimate it becomes a character itself. Penny created a village called Three Pines in Quebec for these stories, and the village is based on Penny’s home town. This past Sunday, NPR’s Linda Wertheimer interviewed Penny about her series, and Penny calls her books “great big thank you letters to a place that made me feel at home when I needed it.” If you’re interested in the rest of the interview, there is a full transcript available on NPR’s website.

I’ve only read Still Life, the first book of the series, but I enjoyed it and will definitely continue it when my TBR pile is less outrageous! I’m also going to hear Penny speak at Fearrington Village tomorrow, so that’s exciting.

Here is what Minotaur has to say about The Long Way Home:

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. “There is a balm in Gilead,” his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, “to make the wounded whole.”

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. “There’s power enough in Heaven,” he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, “to cure a sin-sick soul.” And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

If you like cozy mysteries, you should give Still Life a try.