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Book review: "Bury Your Dead"

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Winter is the perfect time of year to curl up in a comfortable chair with a cup of cocoa and good mystery. Betsy Kepes reviews Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.

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Betsy Kepes
Book Reviewer

It’s winter carnival in Quebec City but Inspector Armand Gamache isn’t ready to party. He’s staying with a retired colleague and trying to recover from a professional fiasco, a police rescue mission that ended in mayhem and blood.

Bury Your Dead is Louise Penny’s sixth book with Chief Inspector Gamache, a middle-aged man who heads the homicide division of the Sûrété de Quebec. It’s easy to like Gamache—he’s kind to dogs, he’s interested in Canadian history, he listens attentively. Even when he’s on medical leave he can’t resist helping out with a new murder case. While he’s out walking his dog, Henri, he sees caution tape and a cluster of police cars. The city police recognize him and ask him to help with translating. The witness is English and speaks atrocious French.

The murder victim was a man obsessed with finding the bones of Samuel Champlain, a real mystery that has never been solved.  The body of the fictional searcher is found in the basement of an Anglophone historical library in the center of the old city.  The elderly, English-speaking Board members are prime suspects.

Penny does a great job weaving into her murder mystery details about Canadian history, and the uneasy relationship the Anglos have with the Quebecois, the clashing of two cultures in Quebec City. When things start going wrong the English speakers try to stay calm. Penny writes, “for the English, startled meant raised eyebrows.”

Bury Your Dead is a thick book with four mysteries unraveling at the same time.  Why did Gamache’s agents die? Who killed the eccentric historian? Where are the remains of Samuel Champlain? And did Gamache put the wrong man in jail after a murder in Three Pines, a village south of Montreal? The other Inspector Gamache mysteries take place in this little town and fans of those books will enjoy meeting this cast of small town characters again. I haven’t read the previous mysteries so I read the Three Pines chapters quickly, waiting for more text about Agent Morin, a man whose brutal kidnapping Gamache tries to understand.

Even with all the unknowns, this is a quiet book. As Gamache says, “A murder was never about brawn, it began and ended in the brain and the brain could justify anything.” My favorite scenes were outside, when Gamache and his dog Henri walked through the snow along the narrow old streets of Quebec City. Penny writes, “It was like falling into an ancient European town.” Gamache needs time alone to sort through his grief and guilt. The new murder investigation revives him, as do bowls of café au lait and flaky croissants.

The last murderer is revealed in a coincidence during a pre-dawn snowstorm. Gamache and the suspect meet on the Plains of Abraham, a battle site in the city. The two hunker down inside a stone turret and philosophize. Of course it seems contrived, but this is a mystery, and this is Inspector Gamache, a man drawn to words and emotions. He has to finish working out his own mental anguish before he can arrest the articulate murderer. And Louise Penny has the writing skill to make the snowstorm discussion seem absolutely plausible.  

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