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.
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.