Friday, 16 November 2012

Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny is number 6 in the Armand Gamache mystery series.  It is also far and away the best one so far - I still have A Trick of the Light and The Beautiful Mystery to get to, both of which have won much acclaim and awards - A Trick of the Light won the Anthony Award in 2011.  Bury Your Dead won the Nero Award, the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award, all in 2010.  It deserved every one of them, too. It is an outstanding mystery, weaving it's way between historical Quebec City, modern day Three Pines, Samuel de Champlain, the English and French in Quebec City, and redemption.

 Much of the novel occurs in the deepest part of winter in Quebec City, in the deep freeze which descends on the city in February.  The Carnivale d'Hiver - Winter Carnival- plays a background role in the setting. The Winter Carnival is one of the biggest festivals in winter in Canada (and the US), drawing in tourists from all over the world to celebrate winter. In the midst of all this revelry, Armand Gamache gets up at 3:30 am, and wanders in the deep heart of the winter night, unable to rest.  He has come to Quebec City to heal, staying with his former mentor Emile from the Surete de Quebec, who has long been retired. Gamache cannot forgive himself for a mistake in judgement he made, a judgement that had terrible consequences for some of his team.  Much of the story is told in an unfolding chapter switching sequence, with Armand dipping back into painful memories, finding his way to the central image that has so devastated him. It's the way the mind works with something painful, and it is fascinating to watch him make his way back to and through the events.  He is trying to find some way to live with the memories. At the same time, this question of judgement has caused him to look back on the case he solved just previous to the events of this novel, in The Murder Stone, where Olivier from the Three Pines was discovered to be guilty of a terrible crime. He sets his second in command  Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is also recovering in his way from the events that torment the Chief,  to discover if Olivier is innocent, if Gamache's team overlooked some evidence.  This is all because Olivier's partner Gabriel refuses to believe Olivier did it and sends a letter every day to Armand that says only, Why did he move the body?  This kind of faith also moves through this book - faith that people have to sustain them, faith in the face of adversity, faith that something can be found that is good and worth protecting.

This is a book about uncovering the evidence to lead to the truth, and about the dead.  How the dead are venerated, how they are kept alive in our memories, how they can shape a place and a time, and even a province - Samuel de Champlain was the discoverer and founder of Quebec City, helped by the aboriginal peoples in the area (the Huron mainly) to survive the first winters. While Gamache is recovering, a laughable mad man who is determined to find Champlain's body somewhere under the earth in Quebec City, is murdered. In the unlikeliest of places, in a hidden corner of the English community that still survives in Quebec City.  So  in order to find out who killed him and not set of hysteria and chaos in the media, Gamache is asked to lend unofficial assistance as he is there and can speak better English than the officers in the Quebec City police force investigating the crime do. Gamache is able to speak to the tiny English community where the murder took place.  The English in Quebec city are an endangered minority, and the book delves into some of the reasons why, dating back to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, when Montcalm lost to Wolfe. Gamache wonders through the book, how did Montcalm feel, when the English did the impossible, the unexpected, and climbed the cliff walls to surround the much larger French army on the Plains?  When he sent for reinforcements, but they never came? While a small part of the novel, it is this interest in the history around him that makes this mystery stand out. Gamache ponders Wolfe, Montcalm, and how the battle was won and lost, and how the English came to rule Quebec City and Canada, against the odds. He compares the battle Montcalm lost, with the errors in judgement he made himself. How can he bury the dead if he can't forget what happened?  Much of this book is about characters who can't forget what happened, and how they have to learn to let go and bury their dead, or they get stuck and can't move into what is good in life. Powerful thoughts in this mystery.

This setting, in the heart of old Quebec City, where Samuel de Champlain is thought to be buried, where the battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought that decided the course of a country, is unique in major mysteries published. I can't think of another mystery that covers this kind of politics and history and murder, set in Canada.  It makes for fascinating reading - plus a bit of homesickness for me, for I spent three years as a teenager living in Quebec City, graduating from high school (secondary school in Quebec) there.  It is a beautiful city, and reading this book took me back to Winter Carnivals I had attended long ago, and the old walled city, and the Plains of Abraham, that my school bus drove by every day to and from our high school. I went to one of the three English high schools then in Quebec City.

 Bury Your Dead is a very good title for this book.  It's like a book of Gamache thinking over what happened to him, and this grief gives a kind of purity to his thoughts. We get a glimpse of how he thinks, and sees the world, and of what a kind, gentle, thoughtful man he is - and yet finds so difficult to forgive himself his failures.  There are all kinds of acts of faith in this book, from Renaud, the man digging for Champlain's burial place, to the faith of  Reine Marie and Emile in letting Armand have his space and heal at his own pace, to the Literary and Historical Society deep in the heart of the city, the last bastion of English language books and history that still survives, and the faith of the people who keep the library going against all odds. It's also the faith of Gabri in his partner, and the faith that Jean-Guy places in the Chief, that the whole team places in him.  And how Armand finds his way to peace so he can rejoin life again.  It's a  beautiful mystery,

I read this a few weeks ago, and I have not been able to forget it.  It is an outstanding mystery.  It is one of my books of the year, too, I know that already. 


Sam said...

Susan, thanks for that great review of one of my favorite recent reads...and series. You reminded me of why I enjoyed it so much and that I need still need to read some of the earlier books in the series. Time...time...and the clock is ticking.

Kailana said...

I really must give this author a try one of these days.

Kathleen said...

Wonderfully thorough review and you've managed to make me want to read this one. The title itself would pique my interest!

Susan said...

Sam: Did you review it recently? I'll come see, and link to it. Thanks for the compliment about the review, I was hoping I did justice to the mystery aspect too, though the highlight was Gamache himself. There was so much to write about in this book, too!

Yes, there is so much to read, isn't there? Not complaining here! This is far better than not having enough *shiver*

Kailana: She's Canadian, too! So yes, she is worth a try, though I know you don't read a lot of mystery series.

Kathleen: Thank you for your compliment! I hope you do get to read it - have you read any of this series yet? There is a wonderful layering of the meaning of the title throughout the book, too.

Laurie C said...

This is a great series! I have recommended it to many non-mystery readers (like myself) who have also loved it. Must be read in order to get the most out of them!

Susan said...

Laurie C: yes, this is a series that non-mystery readers enjoy too, isn't it? As Penny's characters do evolve through the series and occasionally refer back to previous books, you get the most out of reading them in order. Thanks for your comment.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like Penny is a master at what she does. I really need to try one of her books.

Susan said...

bermmudaonion: she is good. Start with Still Life, the first one. I hope you enjoy it!

Cath said...

I'm up to about book 4 in this series. I need to write myself a book plan for next year's reading and on it I need to write, 'Catch up with the Insp. Gamache series'! I do love them but have not read your review as it's further on than I've reached.

Hope you're ok? Saw something on FB about an eye examination...

Susan said...

Cath: I need a reading plan too....though the only problem with that is that I then don't stick to it! I get sidetracked....I'm thinking about challenges, not sure yet if I am going to join any next year.

There are so many series to catch up in!!!! lol

I had failed an eye test last May for the beginnings of narrowing of the veins, so it was good to see that I passed this time around. My optometrist says this often happens, the eyes can heal themselves sometimes from one check up to another. I feel so relieved!!!

Cath said...

This is exactly the problem with me and reading plans too. I write them, have a lot of fun doing that... and then proceed to ignore it for the whole of the year!

There are indeed, although I have tried to prune mine a little.

Ah, right. Well, I'm pleased it turned out ok with your eyes as that can be a worry. My current worry is my hips, which are giving me problems, and am currently prevaricating about going to the drs. about it. Always something.

Susan said...

Cath: I'm so sorry, I thought I had replied to you already. I know I read this shortly after you posted it.

I'm really sorry to hear about your hips. Do you have arthritis in them? Are you having problems getting around? I hope not. I work on strengthening my knees, but it's always a struggle to keep ahead of them stiffening up, it seems. I hope whatever is wrong is able to be healed, Cath.

I see you already have joined some challenges for next year, Cath! lol I think I am going to join one, will be posting about it shortly. I have no reading plan except to try to get some series caught up in. How about you?

Cath said...

I think I probably do have arthritis in my hips as it seems to be everywhere, knees especially. I went to the dr. about my back/hips problem and he thinks it's a slightly displaced disc and is sending me for physiotherapy. Hopefully that will work. I hope you have a decent winter with your knees.

No reading plan here either. I do want to read more non-fiction though, and catch up on some series, like you. And maybe start a few new ones. Like I need that... LOL

Susan said...

Cath: I hope the physio helps with your knees and back. My knees are reacting to my winter boots, and I have knee exercises I have to do every day (more or less), or when they hurt. I hope your hips get better with the physio.

I think in December I have no reading plans, I mostly hope to have reading time!! :-D

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Anne Higgins said...

Hello, Susan - I just signed up to follow your blog. I found your blog because I wanted to read something about the Louise Penny novel that includes the explosion in the factory... and your review turned up on Google!
I have read all the Gamache novels, and am just beginning the latest, How the Light Gets In. I couldn't remember the one with the explosion, which clearly has implications for the current novel.
So I am glad to find your blog... and even more glad for all the other entries! I too am a reader and a poet with a blog,though I have not been as faithful keeping up with it as I wish.

Best wishes from Anne