Monday, August 16, 2010

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

"Je me souviens" (I remember) is the motto of Quebec, and Bury Your Dead echoes this sentiment in every plot thread. In the acknowledgements, Penny says, "Bury Your Dead is not about death, but about life. And the need to both respect the past and let it go." (Advance Reader's Edition) The main action takes place in Quebec City, an ancient, walled settlement literally built on the bones of those who came before. Here, the dwindling English minority huddles together, surrounded by the Francophones who mostly resent their presence. Their symbolic last stand is in the Literary and Historical Society, the depository for all English-language books and papers. The old building needs an infusion of cash, but the Anglophone community responds poorly to attempts to sell off the worthless books and papers choking the Lit and His, insisting that to sell off a few books to save the many devalues the English language. It is here, in the Lit and His, that Inspector Gamache seeks refuge in the past, and is pulled into a murder investigation in the present.

Bury Your Dead is the sixth entry in the Inspector Gamache series. I first read the fifth, The Brutal Telling, then immediately ordered the first four books in the series. I was delighted to receive a review copy of the sixth, which picks up some time after The Brutal Telling. Gamache and Jean-Guy are both on leave following a disastrous case that left both men wounded, physically and emotionally. Gamache seeks refuge in Quebec City with his mentor, Emile, researching the history of another leader whose mistakes piled up until it was too late. In the basement of the Lit and His, the half-buried body of amateur archaeologist and eccentric Augustin Renaud is found, his head caved in with a shovel. Renaud is well-known as a fanatic obsessed with finding the final resting place of Champlain, the father of Quebec. French-English relations are threatened by Renaud's death in the English stronghold, and Gamache is asked to act as liaison between the two communities and assist with the investigation. Penny has dealt in intriguing fashion with the Anglophone/Francophone relations in Quebec in previous books, but this marks her most thorough discussion so far. I was fascinated by the political/historical implications of the unfolding events.

Meanwhile, Gamache is haunted by doubts and sends Jean-Guy (also on leave) to Three Pines to reopen old wounds. I can't go into detail without spoiling The Brutal Telling for those new to the series. But Jean-Guy's covert investigation is a welcome return to the charming village, intersecting with Jean-Guy's attempts to deal with his own past. The final plot thread, the disastrous last case, is teased out in remarkably effective fashion as Jean-Guy and Gamache attempt (separately) to come to terms with the tragedy. So much of both men is revealed in this entry of the series, and this unifying idea of respecting the past, but letting it go, is carried through this psychological exploration as well. It's really a breathtaking book, and I found it difficult to put down.

While a newcomer to the series wouldn't be completely at sea, I recommend against starting with the sixth, which refers to many events in The Brutal Telling. In addition, The Brutal Telling marked a deepening psychological examination of the main characters, which is further explored in Bury Your Dead. Readers will find the most satisfaction in reading the series in order from the beginning as the characters are fleshed out and relationships evolve.

Bury Your Dead is available in hardcover September 28, 2010.

FTC Source Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

My blurbs for #1-4, Still Life, A Fatal Grace, The Cruelest Month, and A Rule Against Murder.
My review of #5, The Brutal Telling.

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