Canadian author Louise Penny conjured the small village of Three Pines for her bestselling Chief Inspector Gamache series. The idyllic town in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, just north of the Vermont border, is just the place one would want to live, if not for the high murder rate.
Penny pulled inspiration for Three Pines from the world that surrounds her. The bistros, boulangeries and bookstores of her own life have literary companions within her work.
Brome Lake Books in Knowlton, Quebec is one example of a real location that came to life in the world of Inspector Gamache. Penny said she wanted to capture the "feel" of Brome Lake Books in her descriptions of Myrna's bookstore, the shop that protagonist Inspector Gamache visits regularly to find a reference or just to talk with his friend, Myrna Landers.
"It's like the bookstore from the novels. It has the wooden shelves, and it's warm and welcoming. You just want to sit down. This place feels like a magical place, especially with Danny and Lucy," says Penny.
Husband and wife team Lucy Hoblyn and Danny McAuley are the owners of Brome Lake Books, one of the only independent English language bookstores in Quebec. They play host to the official global launch of each new Inspector Gamache and Three Pines mystery. Vermont Edition spoke with the owners and the author as Penny was in town to launch the latest in the series, The Nature of the Beast.
On the fans
Brome Lake Books has felt the impact of the Chief Inspector Gamache series' success. "We love being part of this, it's so exciting. The fans are the most exciting part," says McAuley.
Fans from all corners of the world are making pilgrimages to visit the bookstore and to sit in the fireside chairs they've imagined in the books.
"They're looking around going 'This is the bookstore! This is the place!'" says McAuley. "They're coming from the United States, they're coming from Tasmania, they're coming from Ireland. They're coming from all over the world, and they're looking for Three Pines."
"We always say Louise Penny's fans are the nicest people in the world," says Hoblyn. "Three Pines is your utopia. And this is definitely my utopia, being able to run a bookstore with my husband. And we hope that when [fans] come into the store that they find a bit of their utopia as well."
On the storeowners
It's clear that Hoblyn and McAuley play essential roles in providing that utopia for fans of Penny's work.
"Danny and Lucy have become real characters themselves. I write about them, and about my relationship with Danny and Lucy and the bookstore," says Penny, who chronicles her own life and her interactions with fans on her Facebook page.
She credits the duo for making fans feel welcomed in both small and large gestures. When sending out themed mugs, Hoblyn and McAuley include Gamache's characteristic licorice pipe. They host intimate book launches for each new Inspector Gamache book. Well, they used to. The events have long since outgrown the bookstore and they're now looking for an even larger venue for the next launch.
And they've developed one-on-one relationships with fans spanning across the globe. "We had this lovely lady: Arlene, from Texas. She started ordering books three years ago; we started developing this relationship and started writing letters, says Hoblyn. "She sent us a package from Texas with all of these Texas like magnets saying 'Don't Mess With Texas' and things like that."
McAuley recounts the correspondence they had with a nun from Australia that all began when they shipped her a mug. "We had these huge long letters going back and forth for three months because it took three months for the poor mug to make it there. But she was thrilled when it finally made it."
On "The Nature of the Beast"
Penny's ties to the small bookstore go back to the conception of the Inspector Gamache series. "I remember when Louise first came into the bookstore with her manuscript for Still Life and she said, 'I've just finished this and I want someone to read it'," says Hoblyn. "Then came the excitement of getting published, and then bringing in the crisp new books."
Ten years and ten publications later, Penny is releasing her eleventh Inspector Gamache novel, The Nature of the Beast.
"It's based on a true story," says Penny. "It's clearly a crime novel; it's clearly a mystery; but it's really more about the power of storytelling. The power of words."
"The stories that we tell in books and in plays, but [also] the more intimate stories we tell each other too. The blurred line between fact and fiction," says Penny. "But then the even more intimate stories that we tell ourselves privately that allow us to get out of bed in the morning. That what you're doing isn't such a bad thing, and the things that we say to justify our actions, and how that effects our actions moving forward."
But she couldn't say much more than that for fear she'd ruin the twists and turns for her legions of fans.