“Peter swept aside Yogi Tea and Harmony Herbal Blend, though he hesitated a second over the chamomile. But no. Violent death demanded Earl Grey.”

Books on Tap met at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, October 7 for a lively and loud discussion of Still Life by Louise Penny. Library events are not all quiet and subdued, that’s for sure! 

“Cozy mysteries” are an entire subset genre of mysteries, defined by NoveList in this way: “In ‘cozies,’ an amateur or professional sleuth investigates to uncover the truth behind puzzling circumstances (frequently involving murder, or some sort of unusual crime). Traditionally set in a small, close-knit community full of colorful characters, the criminal/murderer in question easily passes as just another local. While serious issues may be raised, cozy mysteries are generally intended as an escape from day-to-day stresses. The tone is humorous; paranormal elements may be present. Violence occurs ‘off-stage’; murder scenes are briefly described, without undue lingering on graphic details. By the end of the story, justice is always served (arrest and trial optional). Cozies are often written in themed series and may have modern or historical settings.” Common characteristics include avoiding overt sexuality, profanity, and graphic descriptions of violence. In fact, the mystery itself is almost secondary. Instead, memorable characters and relationships take center stage. 

Characters were certainly central to this book! We found the story entertaining and easy to zip right through, in part because of the characters: likeable lead detective Gamache, jovial townspeople, incompetant yet prideful newbie-detective Nichol, and plenty of “usual suspects” to keep us guessing. One of our favorite moments, for its wholesomeness, intrigue, and peculiar poignance, was when Gamache gathered the entire community to gather information, potential leads, and general thoughts. While we didn’t think it would ever happen in real life, it was strangely appropriate in this book, because Gamache genuinely needed the perspective of the town, as he was an outsider. Many readers enjoyed (or at least noticed) that this book was different from plot-driven, cliffhanger-obsessed mystery novels. 

We discussed plot holes, plot questions, and what elements of the structure were “weak” in our minds. One reader lamented: “If this had happened in real life this mystery could not have been solved. In many books, you finish and think, ‘I should have known!’ But in this one, I didn’t have that feeling, because it was all so crazy and unbelievable.” Book clubs are amazing ways to connect with other readers, share your opinions, and also ask questions. We enjoyed hearing readers ask “why would this character do that?” and “what was going on inside her head?” 

Towards the conclusion of our discussion, we asked an ominous question. Would you do something if you knew you would get away with it? Maybe murder, maybe something else — where is the limit of what you would do? A reader followed up with: what if you did something accidentally, and then found out the full scope of the negative consequences — would you come forward? How strong is your moral compass? And how does reading a mystery novel, centered on a murder, shape that part of you? Food for thought for you today!

Other authors mentioned: 

Janet Evanovich

Lee Child (Jack Reacher novels)

Michael Connelly 

Robert Parker

Carl Hiassen

Agatha Christie 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, November 4, at 7 pm, to discuss Feed by M.T. Anderson. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

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