Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

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7945049

 Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6

Kindle Edition, 401 pages

Published: August 2, 2011 by Minotaur Books (1st published January 1, 2010)

Setting: Québec City, Québec

Awards: Barry Award Nominee for Best Novel (2011), Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel (2011), Anthony Award for Best Novel (2011), Dilys Award (2011), Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel (2011), Agatha Award for Best Novel (2010), Nero Award (2011), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Mystery and Thriller (2010)

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Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is spending time with his old mentor and friend Émile Comeau in Québec City during Winter Carnival, and the frigid, breathtakingly beautiful city is full of revelers. However Gamache has come seeking solitude and time to heal after an investigation that went tragically wrong.

Three intertwined mysteries comprise this novel. The first is told gradually through flashbacks. Gamache, along with Jean-Guy Beauvoir and other Sûreté officers, investigated the murder of one police officer and the kidnapping of another. Gamache made several crucial mistakes in this investigation, and it ended in tragedy.

In the second, Gamache is drawn into the murder of an amateur archeologist whose body was discovered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, an old English library in Québec City. This crime may ignite ancient tensions between English and French citizens. The third mystery is the discreet reopening of a case solved in The Brutal Telling.

Like A Rule Against Murder, this mystery offers a change of venue from Three Pines, but it occasionally takes us home to that quaint fictional village. Québec City is a fascinating setting, and Penny’s love of this quaint city with its deep historical roots really shines here. And as in A Fatal Grace, readers experience — in a wonderfully visceral way — the brutal cold of a Canadian winter. In other words, damn — this book just feels cold.

Like everyone else, he kept his head down against the wind, only glancing up now and then to make sure he wasn’t about to hit a person or a pole. His eyes watered and the tears froze.

Many people — rightly — laud the incredibly vivid and invariably fascinating sense of place Penny creates in her novels. In fact, after reading this series, I’d be tempted to pack up and move to Québec. Mesmerizing new places. A bilingual culture where my daughter P. and I could immerse ourselves in French. National health care. What’s not to love? However, there is no way I’d survive the winters. I can barely tolerate the winter cold here in Virginia, on the “warm” side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Bury Your Dead represents a change from the first five Armand Gamache novels. Since it introduces a terrorist plot and an unforgettable, albeit brief, scene of brutal violence, it feels a bit less “cozy” than its predecessors. It also has a slight political slant. In the previous books, cultural misunderstandings between Anglos and Francos were occasionally illuminated, providing local color and a bit of gently satirical humor. But in this book, these partisan tensions provide an important and potentially deadly plot point.

Overall, however, this is similar in style and substance to the previous novels. It’s a skillfully crafted mystery, seamlessly interwoven with a wealth of Québécois history and culture.  This historical and cultural richness is one of the hallmarks of Penny’s work. She seems to have a plethora of knowledge and — more importantly — boundless curiosity, which leads her to research a variety of fascinating topics.

This series also continues to be highly character driven. Ruth Zardo, the acerbic, foul-mouthed alcoholic and gifted poet, offers occasional glimpses of what lies beneath her tough facade. The coldness she displays makes her the perfect confidante for Jean-Guy, recovering from the trauma of a previous investigation and trying to determine the guilt or innocence of a convicted killer whose case has been reopened.

In another continuing motif, Penny channeled Agatha Christie, as she did in The Cruelest Month, by having a sleuth gather his suspects in the parlor — or in this case, the bistro — and guide them through his thinking throughout the the investigation, leading up to his revelation of the killer. In this novel, Beauvoir employs this approach as he steps into the spotlight. It’s a device that shouldn’t work in a modern detective novel, but it does. This is partly because of the style and setting of these books. Also, in this novel, Beauvoir provides a eloquent rationale for this method:

Beauvoir paused. He’d seen Gamache do this time and again, reeling in the suspect then letting him run, then reeling some more. But doing it subtly, carefully, delicately, without the suspect even realizing it. Doing it steadily, without hesitation. It would be terrifying for the murderer when it dawned on him what was happening. And that terror was what the Chief counted on. To wear the person down, to grind them down. But it took a strong stomach, and patience. Beauvoir had never appreciated how difficult this was. To present the facts in such a way so that the murderer would eventually know where it was heading. But not too soon as to be able to wiggle away, and not too late to have time to fight back. No, the point was to wear the murderer’s nerves wire thin. Then give him the impression he wasn’t a suspect, someone else was. Let him breathe, then move in again when his guard was down. And do that, over and over. Relentlessly. It was exhausting. Like landing a huge fish, only one that could eat the boat.

As always, I highly recommend this installment of Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series. She does a fantastic job of letting us return to her distinctive literary voice, along with familiar people and places, while showing us something new. I always enjoy revisiting the old characters, though I’d like to see more of Yvette Nichol — I can’t resist an underdog. This novel also offers some memorable new characters — I especially liked Émile Comeau and Tom Hancock. This book will be enjoyed by fans of this series and other mystery aficionados, particularly those who relish a glimpse at interesting places and cultures.

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