Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Louise Penny and John Ironmnger

 

By Lynn Willoughby

Still Life ~ Louise Penny
Penny is not my favourite writer, but this is a nice, light read for the summer.
Chief Inspector Gamache is back with his familiar colleges to solve a murder in a small town outside of Montreal.
The setting is idyllic, the time is October – when bow hunting is legal in the area. One of the most beloved citizens of Three Pines has been found murdered with an arrow and there are endless suspects.  Almost everyone in this town is from somewhere else, with a past that may or may not have been successful. They are a colourful lot.  All of them play into the mystery as do the specifics of archery, the problems with bilingualism, peoples loves, lives, friendships and of course the tragedy.
Clues to the murderer are hidden in plain sight – but who can decipher them? The author takes her time in setting the context with Thanksgiving dinners, dog walking, drinks around a cozy fire with friends (or are they??).
Gamache, as usual, never stops listening and observing.
Of course the murderer is discovered and the title’s play on words is uncovered. It is easy reading, enjoyable, not too dark with great character and a lovely setting.
Not Forgetting the Whale ~ John Ironmnger
This is a whale of a book that is complex, interesting and could be the basis of much debate in a bookclub. The protagonist is Joe Haak, who develops a computer software program that can read everything, analyze it and predict the future. “As the economy reels, supermarket giants fall to their knees, Heathrow scans its passengers for Ebola…” we have this wonderful novel that wonders how mankind will behave the world comes crashing down around us.
Joe has seen what CASSIE is predicting. He gets in his car and drives until he can’t drive any further, gets out in the village of St Piran and walks straight into the ocean. He is rescued by several of the villagers.  Not only do they save his life, they save his soul. He is given a place to sleep at the doctor’s house, meals and drinks at the pub, is greeted by name on the street. It is a world he has never experienced after living his entire life in London at a huge banking and stock brokerage firm.
Then the world as we know it starts to unravel. CASSIE’s predictions are coming to pass. The flu is killing hundreds of thousands around the world, there are shortages of power, water, oil, food, heat and fuel. Cities are collapsing worldwide.
The narrative weaves between Joe’s past and the present, between London and St Piran. To add to the drama, a huge fin whale beaches itself at St Piran and is suffocating. Joe rallies the town to save it. We are never sure if this is an allegory, symbolic of Hobbe’s “Leviathan” and his prediction of the end of the world, or is it Jonah’s deliverance as we know it from the Bible and the Qur’an.
This is story telling at it’s best – funny, witty and moving, although the last third of the book got a little bogged down. The characters are well defined and quite likeable. Yes, there is human tragedy, the potentially pandemic virus, the specter of the collapse of civilization. But as we know, humankind is full of surprises and we are amazingly resilient. “Deprive a culture of food for three meals and you’ll have anarchy.” ~ Alexander Dumas. Is this really what you want to spend your days worrying about?
In Joe’s darkest hour he remembers advice from his father that I found remarkable and worth repeating: “Give the crisis a score. Mark it out of one hundred…and ask yourself how much you would score it tomorrow. And how much you would score it next week. And next year. Will they write about this matter in your obituary? Will anyone die?” This seems like good advice for everyday, and I will certainly try to remember it if the world comes to an end.
  • Coincidence Authority
  • The Notable Mind of Maximilian Ponder
Who Knew?
The fin whale is a baleen whale, next to the blue whale as the second largest mammal in the world. The lower right jaw is bright white while the lower left jaw is black.

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