CHENNAI: Three Pines is a tiny village to the south of Montreal in Québec, Canada, close to the US border. Maps haven’t discovered it yet, though you can find the village in the series written by Louise Penny. It seems to appear from the middle of nowhere to weary travellers — tired of running, of chasing or of hiding, tired of looking to belong, tired of their existence. The village heals them, and helps them find friends. And perhaps, eventually, find themselves.
It’s minuscule — maybe a couple of hundred people stay there. Rivière Bella Bella flows through it — can there be a prettier name for a river? The houses there are quaint, and the people kind, warm and courteous. The food is marvellous — maple-cured back bacon, eggs benedict, café au lait and desserts at Gabri and Olivier’s bistro; croissants and other succulent warm bread at Sarah’s boulangerie. There’s the painter couple, Peter and Clara Morrow, whose trials and tribulations as artistes struggling with inner and outer demons, form a running thread in the series. There’s Ruth Zardo, a cantankerous, foul-mouthed old lady who is also perhaps the greatest living poet in Canada. There’s the Hadley house, where old Timmer Hadley had died, leaving behind her son Ben. Myrna Landers, the generous and philosophical former psychologist, runs the library and second-hand bookstore, and Monsieur Beliveau the all-purpose general stores. And there are many others — gentle, old-world people, caring and affectionate. These are people who have struggled to find an anchor in the world, and ended up in this tiny village. And set roots.
Three Pines holds a secret, though. It has had perhaps the most number of murders for any locale in fiction, per capita. Evil lurks at Three Pines, and the village-folks will have their lives singed and scorched by it. Some will be threatened, some will get hurt, some will be murdered, and some will even commit the heinous crime. Evil does not distinguish.
And when a murder actually happens, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec, Armand Gamache will come by with his team of detectives.
There’s Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, the dapper, suave bloodhound of the team, leading the way. Agent Isabelle Lacoste is the hunter, meticulous, brave and mellow. And the main protagonist, Chief Inspector Gamache, is the explorer, searching the deepest, darkest crevices of the minds of the suspects, daring to go the distance and uncover the beasts.
The Three Pines novels are my favourite currently-running detective series. It’s a beautiful little world that Louise Penny has created. There are intricate plots, and the most astounding of murders. Strong character arcs, tightly-written scenes, descriptive yet unsoppy prose. Murders happen at Three Pines. Yet, would you let go of a chance to visit, and book a room at the B&B? I recommend you start with Still Life, the first in the series.
(The writer is Financial Architect in Bangalore, whose short stories have been published in magazines in India and Singapore)