Friday, September 8, 2017

Bury Your Dead

by Louise Penny
Minotaur Books     2010
384 pages      Mystery

"As Quebec City shivers in the grip of winter, its ancient stone walls cracking in the cold, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache plunges into the most unusual case of his celebrated career. A man has been brutally murdered in one of the city's oldest buildings - a library where the English citizens of Quebec safeguard their history. And the death opens a door into the past, exposing a mystery that has lain dormant for centuries...a mystery Gamache must solve if he's to apprehend a present-day killer."

Louise Penny just gets better and better with each book. Bury Your Dead is the sixth outing for Inspector Gamache and what a mystery (or mysteries) he has uncovered. 

As Bury Your Dead opens, Inspector Gamache has had a tragedy in his professional life and is healing from his injuries by visiting his friend and mentor Emile in Quebec City. He has decided to explore some neglected Quebec history at the Literary and Historical Society, the English language library in the old city.

Shortly after his arrival in the city, an amateur archaeologist, Augustin Renaud, is found dead in the library basement. Murdered with his own shovel. Everyone knew Renaud because they believed that he was crazy; he was obsessed with Samuel de Champlain, and he had searched for Champlain's body all over the city of Quebec. Did he think that the body of Champlain was in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society?

 Even though he is on a leave of absence, Gamache can't avoid being drawn into the mystery, both the mystery of Champlain's body and the mystery of Renaud's death. At the same time, Gamache is keeping tabs on an investigation in Three Pines, which he feels that he may have botched. Beauvoir, his lieutenant, is recovering in the small village, trying to figure out if Olivier, the village hotel keeper, is indeed guilty of the murder of the hermit—the case in The Brutal Telling. (This is book 5 in the series. Haven't read it.) So now we have two cases—the dead archaeologist and the dead hermit. 

But—and this is a big but—Gamache is also trying to reconcile the decisions he made on a botched raid in which some of his inspectors were killed and both he and Beauvoir were injured. He is deeply wounded—both physically and emotionally—and he plays the events over and over in his mind. Because he can't sleep at night, he prowls the Plains of Abraham where the significant battle between the French and the English played out. He compares the failures of Champlain at this battle with his own failures. Oh, and I forgot to say that it is winter and bitterly cold.

There is a lot going on in Bury Your Dead, and it is significant that Penny is able to keep all these balls in the air in ways that keeps the reader fascinated. Penny and her husband spent a month in Quebec fitting all the details together in order to make the city of Quebec come alive for the reader. So, the Champlain body narrative connects to the dead archaeologist, which is completely interwoven with the murder in Three Pines and  Gamache's mental fatigue. The book is brilliantly constructed, and our understanding of Gamache deepens as he faces these enormous challenges.

As you will read in the next article, I met Louise Penny at the launch of her newest book, Glass Houses at the end of August. She  is a remarkably gracious woman, and a crowd of nearly 500 greeted her at the launch. In Quebec City, my friend and I took an Inspector Gamache tour of all the sites mentioned in Bury Your Dead. Extremely nerdy, but also extremely cool.  

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