Louise Penny

By this point I’ve read Louise Penny’s entire oeuvre to date. Obviously I like what I’m reading, or I wouldn’t continue. You can get a full list of her novels at her website, or you can just pick one up at random from the middle of the pack. The danger of the latter path, of course, is that you miss all the character development that goes on from one book to the next, not to mention a few important plot points. Penny’s mystery novels are set in a small, secluded Quebec village, which is itself a character in the stories. You get something of a police procedural, and something of a traditional cozy mystery, and something of a character study. The characters feel real, and have real histories. The village is set in a deep valley without Internet reception; like Sue Grafton’s decision to set her stories in the ’80s, this makes some dilemmas in the plot more convincing than they would be otherwise.

Unfortunately the series has one major flaw —well, major to someone like me with a linguistics and mathematics background. (It won’t bother most readers.) The flaw is that the series contains several egregious errors in Latin, French, and cryptography. At this point I don’t remember what the French errors are, although they’re particularly annoying for a series that takes place in Quebec. But an example of a Latin error is that Penny translates dies illa as “day of wrath,” and that actually turns out to be a plot point! And the cryptography errors are so blatant that I have turned one of them into a worksheet for my Algebra II students to explore in their crypto unit. (The worst of these is “The brilliance of the Caesar’s shift is that it’s almost impossible to break because the shift can be whatever length you want.”) I still enjoy the books, and your mileage may vary.

Categories: Books