Monday, September 27, 2010

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries have dominated the traditional mystery awards this decade.  But, none have been as magnificent, as haunting, as this sixth book in the series, Bury Your Dead.  In some ways, it's a quiet, introspective story, but that makes it all the more powerful.  I can't use enough superlatives to describe a story that brilliantly intertwines two murder investigations, a police case that went tragically wrong, and the history of Québec.

It might be Carnival time in Québec City, by Armand Gamache is not there for the entertainment, but to find a quiet place for contemplation, and recovery from an investigation that ended in tragedy.  His time is spent with his retired mentor, walking the streets with his dog, Henri, and researching in the quiet Literary and Historical Society. Few people venture into the library at this last bastion of Anglo Québec, but Gamache appreciates the opportunity to delve into the past, and the history of a battle that changed the complexion of the province.  And, he appreciated the quiet atmosphere until an historian is found dead in the basement of the building.  For the members of the Lit and His, the death couldn't have stirred up more attention.  Augustin Renaul had been obsessed about one thing - searching for the missing body of Samuel de Champlain, the founder and father of Québec.  Now, his murder in the basement would only stir up publicity and resentment.

But, why would Renaul have been digging for Champlain's remains there, anyways?  Asked to work unofficially on the case, Gamache is intrigued with the great man's history, and his missing body.  The opportunity to investigate here allows him time to recover emotionally from a case that haunts him, as he replays the past over and over in his head.  At the same time, he has started to doubt his findings in another case, one related to Three Pines, when he arrested a man for murder.  Since he doesn't have time to look into that, he asks Jean Guy Beauvoir to work on the supposition that the man in prison might be innocent, and visit Three Pines.  Once again, readers are allowed into the small world where Gamache  found a second home, and comfort, while Beauvoir only feels uncomfortable returning there.

Over and over, I've used the word tragedy when referring to this story.  Bury Your Dead is about people who are unable to bury the past.  That inability to let go haunts so many of the characters, including Armand Gamache, a man who can't forgive himself, and shoulders the responsibility for death.  And, that inability to let go causes otherwise sane people to kill, and an entire province to share an obsession with their past.

Although that theme dominates the story, winter, and the weather, are crucial elements as well.  In Three Pines, the residents fantasize over tropical vacations.  It might have something to do with their setting, boarding on the forest.  "And, when the winter sun set on a Québec forest, monsters crawled out of the shadows.  Not the B-grade movie monsters, not zombies or mummies or space aliens.  But older, subtler wraiths.  Invisible creatures that rode in on plunging temperatures.  Death by freezing, death by exposure, death by gong even a foot off the path, and getting lost.  Death, ancient and patient, waited in Québec forests for the sun to set."

In some ways, Bury Your Dead reminds me of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, the classic story of a recuperating detective investigating one of history's great mysteries.  Penny has given Armand Gamache a contemporary case, but he's just as fascinated by the mystery of Champlain's whereabouts.  And, he needs to take his mind off of his own story.

But, Louise Penny has given us her own masterpiece.  The Brutal Telling led up to this book, but it could only begin the powerful story told in Bury Your Dead.

*****
I seldom add a note to my reviews, but, as a librarian, I had to include the following short section.  I started to say it doesn't have a lot to do with the story, but it does.  Penny didn't put a word wrong in this book, and the comments about information, knowledge and power is actually an important element in the make-up of Armand Gamache.  So, my favorite passages are thoughts of Inspector Langlois, of the Québec City homicide squad as he sits in the library of the Literary and Historical Society.

'It smelled of the past, of a time before computers, before information was "Googled" and "blogged."  Before laptops and Blackberries and all the other tools that mistook information for knowledge...'

"He remembered how it felt to find himself in the library, away from possible attack but surrounded by things far more dangerous than what roamed the school corridors.

"For here thoughts were housed."

"Young Langlois had sat down and gathered that power to him.. The power that came from having information, knowledge, thoughts, and a calm place to collect them."

Those quotes are a librarian's dream.  Thank you, Louise.

Louise Penny's website is http://www.louisepenny.com/

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.  St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2010. ISBN 9780312377045 (hardcover), 384p.

****f*
FTC Full Disclosure - I'm giving a different type of disclosure with this book.  The publisher did send me an ARC of the book, hoping I would read and review it.  But, anyone who knows me, knows that Louise Penny has become a friend of mine since the publication of her first book.  Even so, she knows, as do other authors, that I never give good reviews just because I'm a friend of an author.  In this case, Bury Your Dead is just as good as I said, and friendship has nothing to do with my opinion of this book.

30 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm so excited about reading this book, Lesa, and even more excited after reading your review. I've fallen in love with Louise's characters and look forward to finding out what happens to them next. "Brutal Telling" was a wonderful book and I can't wait to read "Bury Your Dead!"

Lesa said...

Tomorrow is release date, Elizabeth. I know some people received ARCs, and read and reviewed the book much earlier. I couldn't even read the reviews that soon because I didn't want to spoil my reading of it. And, I wanted to wait to review it until readers could get their hands on a copy. It's a wonderful book.

Joe Barone said...

I have the book on order. I think she is a magnificent writer who knows small towns in a way that no other mystery writer that I've read does.

I left a word out of my previopus post, so I deleted it added the word, and reposted it.

Lesa said...

Joe,

And, I heard from Louise Penny. It was so hard not to reveal the "tragedy" in this book. It would have allowed me to cut back on the use of the word, but I think it's more important that readers discover it themselves, as I did. I didn't give away anything that will spoil your enjoyment of Bury Your Dead.

She is a magnificent writer. And, even when she writes about Quebec, she finds a way to narrow it down to small communities, so she still writes about "small towns."

Kay said...

Lesa, you did a marvelous job reviewing this book. Louise is proud, I'm sure. LOL

I've decided to do my own little mini-Louise-athon. I'm going to reread all her books before reading this one. It's an October project of mine and I'm excited about it. I think reading back to back will give me such an immersion in her writing style and Three Pines itself.

I can't help but remember talking with her at dinner when she was about to go to Quebec City and start researching this book. It makes it feel so personal to me. Kind of "behind the scenes". She deserves all the recognition and acclaim she receives and I wish her great success with BURY YOUR DEAD.

Lesa said...

What a great way to get ready for Bury Your Dead, Kay! Isn't it nice to have that "behind the scenes" feeling? She does deserve all the recognition and acclaim. I predict she'll receive even more with this book. As much as I loved her previous books, this one is magnificent. (A word I don't remember using before about a mystery.)

jenny milchman said...

Ooh, cannot wait, Lesa, thanks! I know this may sound weird to avid series readers, but Louise's is one of only two I read hot off the presses. (Lee Child is the other in case anyone's interested in this particular weirdness. I don't understand it myself.) Anyway, thanks for the review!

Lesa said...

Oh, I understand, Jenny. I never wait to read Louise's books or Chris Grabenstein's. One of the authors I used to read, Lee Harris, is no longer writing. Now, I'd save her books for a time when I "needed" them, and I'd savor them then. But, I HAVE to read Louise's right away, although, I always wait to read it until just about release date so I can share it here. You're going to love this one, Jenny.

Lori Thornton said...

I was fortunate enough to win an Early Reviewers copy of the book through LibraryThing, and you are absolutely correct in your assessment of the book. It's a masterpiece -- and definitely the best book I've read all year (and perhaps even in several years).

Kaye Barley said...

Lesa - I've been waiting and waiting for your review! I knew you'd love it. Me too!!

I've been a fan of Louise's since Book One, but honestly, I think with these last two, she's reached a new realm. Magnificent and stunning.

Lesa said...

Lori,

You're right. This is the best book I've read in the last few years. I'm glad my assessment agreed with your opinion of it. I didn't want people to feel as if I went over the top in my review. I didn't.

Lesa said...

Kaye,

I went to your blog today, and read your review. (Couldn't wait, could you? grin) I hadn't wanted to read it until I had the chance to read the book myself. What a wonderful phrase, "She's reached a new realm." It was wonderful.

Donis Casey said...

Louise is one of my favorite authors ever and the loveliest, warmest human being to boot. And so good that when I read her books, I am filled with despair and the sinking feeling that I ought to be painting houses rather than writing. (I get the same feeling when I read Ann Tyler or Sue Monk Kidd)

Lesa said...

Now, that's not true, Donis! Your books are totally different, and I like Alafair and her family. And, do you really want to paint houses here in Arizona's heat? (grin) Stick with writing.

Louise is really one of the nicest people out there, isn't she?

Kay said...

I agree with you totally, Lesa! As lovely and warm and talented as Louise is (and I totally concur), I cannot, repeat cannot, do without my Alafair and family Oklahoma visits!! Donis, you must keep writing, but if you must paint houses, please do it in Louise's neck of the woods and not yours! LOL

Lesa said...

So, there, Donis. Another reader and blogger heard from who loves your books as well. We're waiting for the next book. Due out in Feb, right?

Tina said...

I totally agree with your assessment of Louise Penny's talent. This was her most awesome book yet. And your matches exactly one that I had flagged in my already dog-eared copy. It is one that makes me proud to be a librarian and a reader.

Lesa said...

Tina,

You don't know how good I feel that others feel the same way about this exceptional book that I do. And, it is an exceptional one. I summarized the passage to a group of librarians today, not having the book with me, and they all liked it as well.

Joe Barone said...

Leesa,
You do a good job of telling enough to highlight what makes the book interesting without spoiling the mystery. Sometimes when I write my own little blog comments (which are mostly for myself, to help me crystallize what I am thinking) I feel that I hardly talk about the plot at all. But I do worry about giving away too much and spoiling other people's reading.

I read a few reviews of Bury Your Dead which might have done that, except that Louise Penny writes such interesting stories, that little could spoil my enjoyment, I suspect.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Joe. The mystery was so important to this book, I didn't want to spoil it. And, Louise said some of the reviews did give away too much information. I don't want to do that.

This book is fascinating, with the combination of history, mystery, and tragedy. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Kris said...

I can't wait to read some of the authors work...it sounds wonderful.

Lesa said...

If you haven't read any of her books, Kris, you'll want to start with Still Life, and meet the characters, and discover Three Pines. I almost envy you the chance to discover that village.

Bev Stephans said...

My copy will be here Thursday. I can't wait. It seems like such a long time between books, et voila, it is here.

I haven't decided how I'm going to read it yet. In small pieces or one long marathon read. Gotta get my snacks together. Can't read without my snacks.

Thank you for reviewing this book. I would have bought it anyway, but you made it more desirable.

Lesa said...

Oh, Bev. It's hard not to read this book in one long marathon. Louise just sucks you into Quebec City and Three Pines, and you don't want to leave either place. I hope you enjoy it.

And, I hope you come back and tell me what you thought. Enjoy!

Tribute Books Mama said...

Will add this to my tbr list,thanks

Lesa said...

You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it.

Jo Anna Perrin said...

Great in-depth review; spot on. I recently did a review for my own site but from an audio book point of view. I find this series gets so amazingly better with each new edition, that I am flabbergasted by Ms. Penny's ability to keep up with her creation. So, I remain horribly impatient for the next book!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Jo Anna. It is hard to believe that each book gets better, isn't it? I'm with you; impatient to read the next one!

Gabrielle Renoir-Large said...

I love Louise Penny's mysteries! Love Three Pines!

I have this book to read, but haven't read it yet, though I'm really looking forward to it. I just finished THE BRUTAL TELLING.

Lovely review. Thank you! :)

Lesa said...

And, acccording to Louise, I didn't spoil the story for you, Gabrielle. I love her stories as well. Isn't Three Pines wonderful, even with the murders?