“Let’s be Thelma and Louise. You can be Thelma,” says Louise Penny.
With a laugh and a cloud of dust, the Canadian mystery novelist sets off in her beloved convertible VW Beetle for a tour through the western part of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the setting for her award-winning books. We swoop through dark forests and past sunny villages, hurtling over bumpy roads and stopping, occasionally, for an urgent chocolate break. We’re sure her detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, would do the same—if he had time between solving murders, of course.
With her first, multiple-award-winning book, 2005’s Still Life, Penny discovered that the bright prettiness of the Eastern Townships made a perfect setting for the dark deed of murder. Located in southeastern Quebec, on the edge of the American border, the area once offered refuge to United Empire Loyalists; now its historic villages invite city-weary souls to relax in their boulangeries and bistros.
But there’s one village you won’t find on any map: the fictional town of Three Pines, which specializes in murder the way others do in cheese or wine. Wondering what could inspire such deadly deeds in such a pretty place, we checked in with Penny and followed the croissant crumbs to the scene of the crime.
Most Quebecers know this village near Mont Sutton as a popular ski resort on the Vermont border. In Penny’s books, it is the fictional St. Remy; in reality, it is where she lives with her husband, Michael. “That sense of belonging, which is at the centre of my books, is what I’ve found here,” Penny says. “It’s a very restful place to be.” One of her favourite places in town is the historic bakery called La Rumeur Affamée. (15A Principale Nord, Sutton)
Brome Lake Books
In the heart of the historic town of Knowlton is Brome Lake Books, a sprawling store with nooks just calling out to book lovers. Penny’s readers will recognize it as the model for Myrna’s bookstore in Three Pines. (264 Chemin de Knowlton, Knowlton)
Abbaye de Saint-Benoît- du-Lac
Since 1912, the abbey has been home to Benedictine monks who have contemplated God, performed Gregorian chants, welcomed guests and, in 1943, started making cheese here on the shore of Lake Memphrémagog. Among them is Brother Charles, who provided research for Penny’s latest book. “Louise asked me how the community would react if there was a murder here,” he says. “And, boy, that stumped me." (1 rue Principale, Saint-Benoît-du-Lac)
Georgeville General Store
Poor Monsieur Beliveau, who keeps the general store in Three Pines but can’t keep love in his life. Luckily, the real épicerie is a much happier place. The best reason to stop in this late-18th century village is the store with its old-fashioned glass cases filled with sweet treats. “They have the best pies,” Penny confides. (4675 Chemin Georgeville, Georgeville)
Manoir Hovey, North Hatley
Immediately recognizable as the elegant Manoir Bellechasse in A Rule Against Murder, this Relais & Chateaux property is one of the most romantic inns in Canada. A handsome white-columned building, it sits above Lake Massawippi, just outside picturesque North Hatley. (575 Rue Hovey, North Hatley; manoirhovey.com)