A Better Man

Louise Penny’s love story


What: An Evening with Louise Penny

When: 7 pm Fri., Aug. 30

Where: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St.

Cost: $35-$55; includes a signed copy of A Better Man

Info: http://www.mountbakertheatre.com

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Although she’s a renowned mystery writer, the series of books that have made Louise Penny a New York Times bestselling author can also be viewed as love stories.

That’s primarily because her husband, the late Michael Whitehead, was the inspiration for the character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache—the protagonist of her 14 works of fiction that are set around a provincial police force in Quebec.

Penny was a newly sober radio journalist and host with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation when she met the head of hematology at Montreal Children’s Hospital on a blind date, and even though there was a noticeable age difference, the duo clicked. Two years after their initial meeting, they got hitched.

With her husband’s emotional and financial support, Penny eventually decided to try her hand at writing a historical novel. But after finding herself in a creative rut, she changed course and penned her first mystery, Still Life. The book was released in 2006 and introduced readers to an indelible character doing his level best to solve crimes in the fictional town of Three Pines. Penny won the New Blood Dagger Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, and the Barry Award (among others) and Gamache found a place where he could solve any number of crimes.

“Michael and I were together for 22 years and married for 20,” Penny says on her website, confirming not only that he was the inspiration for the inspector, but also that he was the one who made the books possible. She notes that he was “kindly, thoughtful, generous” and a “man of courage and integrity, who both loved and accepted love. ”

When the author makes her way to Bellingham for “An Evening with Louise Penny” event Fri., Aug. 30 at the Mount Baker Theatre, those in attendance will hear more about the latest tome in the series, A Better Man, but will also likely discover how she made the transition from radio host to bestselling author in her 40s, and how she had to change the course of her life when Michael developed dementia.

An article Penny wrote for the AARP shortly before Michael’s death three years ago brought home the fact that theirs was a love story for the ages. Even as bigger pieces of his personality fell away and his blank looks grew longer, she proved she was in it for the long haul.

But it wasn’t easy, and the eloquence with which she describes how she failed on fulfilling certain promises to him—that they’d never leave the home they loved, that he’d go everywhere she did, that she’d never get angry at him—is underscored by how many promises she did keep.

“I’d been desperately trying to keep our lives normal,” she writes. “But there was a new normal, and it changed every day. If I didn’t change with it, that was my fault. Not Michael’s.

“I asked for help. Brought in caregivers. Set up massages three times a week for Michael. And yoga classes with friends once a week in our condo, for me. We threw a housewarming party, a Christmas party, a party for Michael’s 82nd birthday. Packed with people. All of whom knelt down to talk with Michael, who smiled the whole time.”

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