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When summer travel and reading intersect: Montréal and the Inspector Gamache series

Published Jul 17 2019 in Life, Reading, Summer, Travel

Summer feels like it’s marching right along, doesn’t it?  

Amongst the normal goings on of life and work, we’ve had new privacy fencing and a darling picket fence installed at the cottage.  (Painting is next but the heat has to let up a bit first!)

My son is off at his first overnight camp at a local university where he’s studying music for a week and getting a taste of dorm and college life.

A trip to the coast is coming up that I’m terribly excited for.  It’s been two years since we’ve been to the beach, which is a travesty! 

And at the beginning of summer, we visited my partner’s parents in upstate New York.

In the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York

After enjoying a few days with them in the Catskills, we then continued north to Montréal. This marked our family’s first time in Canada and it was fantastique!

Welcome to Quebec

Visiting Montréal was borne out of the fact that this year I’ve found myself *deep* into the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.  (The first book, Still Life, is pictured at the top of this post.)

Though the best-selling series technically falls into the murder mystery genre, these books are so much more! That’s why I want to share a bit about them, and their author, with you.  If you enjoy satisfying stories that make you think--and even perhaps inspire you to be a better person—please read on!

Armande Gamache is the protagonist of the stories and the chief homicide inspector of of the Québec police department (properly called the Sûreté du Québec) in Montréal.  Many of the mysteries he investigates take place in the fictional, utterly charming and somewhat remote village of Three Pines in southeast Québec.   

Three Pines rendering by Rhys DaviesRendering of Three Pines by Rhys Davies

Gamache, though a detective, is described in appearance as favoring a professor more than a cop. He’s in later middle age, thoughtful, an explorer of human nature and regular quoter of poetry.

In the mysteries he solves, Gamache probes not just the facts of the cases, but even moreso the emotions and relationships of the people involved. Tackling themes of belonging, love, friendship, hope, redemption, creativity and more, Louise Penny writes with striking insight into the human condition through Gamache and the rich cast of lovably quirky characters.

She also layers the stories with extensive details that appeal to the reader’s senses.  Through illustrative descriptions of the settings, weather and even the Québeçois foods eaten, Penny creates an immersive experience for the reader that makes you feel completely at home in her books.

Claudia of Mockingbird Hill Cottage, is also a fan of Gamache and Louise Penny, as well as a follower of Harmony Farm Candles.  She’s written a few posts on her blog about the books and Louise Penny. This post in particular captures far better than I’m able why these books and characters are so resonant and affecting. 

Because of how engrossing the Gamache series is, when the chance to visit Montréal arose this year, I immediately started brushing up on my French! 

Montréal was a delight to visit with impeccable weather this time of year. We walked umpteen miles traversing the city and ate provincial specialties like poutine, bagels, smoked meat sandwiches, and of course croissants. So many croissants!

A pleasant hike to the top of Mont Royal afforded us an expansive view of the city.

Walking up Mont Royal in Montreal, Quebec

A view of Montreal from Mont Royal

Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal) was a treat as we took in the cobblestone streets and 17th century stone buildings that now house restaurants and shops.

An Old Montreal alley

Marche Bonsecours market and geraniums in Old Montreal

Erin in Old Montreal

Funnily enough, while walking in the La Petite-Patrie neighborhood where we stayed, we passed a Gamache tailor shop!  Louise Penny has said she named the character Gamache after a tailor of the same name.  However, that tailor lives in Granbury, Québec.  For a moment I thought I’d stumbled on Chief Inspector Gamache’s namesake!

Gamache Tailleur in Montreal, Quebec

Though we weren’t able to venture to the rural area southeast of Montréal that inspired the village of Three Pines, there are enough references in the books to places and landmarks in Montréal that connect the city and the series.  And let’s be honest, an excuse to go back to Québec is most welcome anyway.

The experience of Montréal is one I won’t soon forget. However, even with the conclusion of the trip, that wasn’t the end of reveling in Gamache!

Shortly after returning to the U.S., I also had the pleasure of seeing Louise Penny in person.  What fantastic fortune, right?

She came to North Carolina to promote her most recent Gamache book, Kingdom of the Blind, as well as the forthcoming A Better Man. Only having seen her author photo on the book jackets, I had no idea what to expect but was excited to learn more about this brilliant writer.

Well, let’s just say Louise is a one-of-a-kind person. She completed dazzled the audience with her humor, storytelling and down-to-earth authenticity. I was transfixed by her comfort with herself, her wisdom and wit.  Hearing Louise speak with such fondness about the world she’s created in the novels endeared me even more to the series.  Her reflections on overcoming fears and feelings of unworthiness were utterly relatable.  Hearing her perspective on creating art appealed to my partner who’s an artist even though he hasn’t read the books yet.

Louise Penny in Winston-Salem, NCPenny on stage in Winston-Salem! (photo from her Facebook page)
See that bald head in the foreground?  That's my partner, Matt, and I'm to his right.

In retrospect, I wish the talk had been recorded in some fashion because the evening is something I would love to relive more than just in my memory. I came away feeling connected to the other fans present and my soul felt filled from the magic of the evening.

While in town, Louise recorded a podcast interview for Inside the Writer’s Studio in conjunction with this appearance. Give it a listen if you’re inclined.  Louise’s intelligence and magnetic personality shine right through!  

Since the trip, I’ve continued reading and enjoying the books more than ever.  When I briefly shared on Instagram how much I love the books, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that several followers are fans of the series as well! 

Have you read any of the Gamache books? I can’t recommend them enough—clearly!—and I’d encourage you to give them a try.  Definitely do read them in order though! There are story arcs that span several books and would be confusing to follow out of order.

Since summers are made for traveling and reading, I must ask: are there any books or series that have captured your imagination? Have you gone out of town or have plans to?

As someone always on the lookout for book and travel suggestions, let’s share in the comments below!

-Erin

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