Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny is the 6th Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery, and the winner of the 2010 Agatha Award for “Best Novel.”
The dedication at the beginning of this Agatha Award winner is to second chances, both to those that give them and those that take them. Life is built on second, third, and even fourth chances. Those who don’t believe in them either have never needed help or think they never will in the future.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache knows this only too well. When an operation ends tragically, he blames himself and the choices he made. Quebec City just doesn’t seem big enough to give him the solace and isolation he craves, as he tries to come to terms with his demons. It takes more than growing a beard to hide his face, as it is so well known from the television and news reports, but he tries by staying away from the razor. The library provides the perfect place for Gamache, an avid reader, to hibernate, as he licks his wounds and dwells on what might and should have been.
Quebec City forms a very dramatic backdrop to this angst ridden tale of murder, intrigue, and revenge. Louise Penny weaves a masterly spell on the reader as the characters unfold, both modern and historical. If you are familiar with Montcalm and Wolfe, then you will know they are not an upmarket London soap brand, and will be delighted to read about their context in the development of modern day Quebec. If you are not, then this book will serve as both a novel and a historical presentation of a fascinating time.
In Quebec City, the French ways are favored by some, and the English by others. Those who care little about whether a croissant or a scone is served with the tea make up the intricate fabric of Quebec, and Louise Penny is right on the money with her analysis and description of the two camps—one loyal to Montcalm, and the other firmly in the land of General Wolfe.
Is the wall around the city to keep people out or beliefs and memories in? Ms. Penny gives just enough to keep you interested, with enough room for you to decide.
Letters arrive on a daily basis to remind Gamache of a case of a body that was found in Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines. One blow to the head—dead. The victim couldn’t take the marvelous treasures discovered in his home after his death. No pockets are sewn on a shroud.
The eventual attacker, convicted on strong evidence, was a friend of Gamache's. Yet, things are not always finished. The victim, known as the Hermit, had gotten his wish to be left alone, granted for eternity, with his murder.
One day, as Gamache heads for the library of the Literary and Historical Society, he sees a cordon, police cars, a crowd of people, and an ambulance.
“Move along, monsieur,” one of the officers, young and officious, came up to him. “No need to stare.”
“I wanted to go in there,” said Gamache. “Do you know what happened?”
The young officer turned his back and walked away but it didn’t upset Gamache. Instead he watched the officers talk among themselves inside the cordon. While he and Henri stood outside.
It doesn’t take long for the policeman to realize his mistake, but it is understandable, as he is a local policeman of Quebec City and Gamache is the head of a far larger law enforcement agency. A body has been found in the basement of the library, and it appears to be a murder.
Inspector Langlois needs some help in understanding what the head librarian is saying, as she attempts to speak French to him, and he, in turn, tries to speak English to her. He asks for Gamache’s assistance, but Armand refuses, as it is not his case.
Elizabeth MacWhirter watches from the window of the library. She recognizes Gamache from the news reports—the ones that led to his isolation and beard—and follows him before introducing herself. Together, they sit over coffee and wonder how it could have come to pass. Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec in 1608, was dead and buried, but no one knew where. One man, Augustin Renaud, had devoted his entire adult life to digging and tunneling beneath old Quebec City, in an attempt to locate Champlain. He had only managed to end up dead, as it is his body discovered in the library basement.
The story beats along, as the mystery unravels to reveal the truth of the Hermit’s death, Renaud’s demise, and Champlain…well, if you want to know, get a copy of this worthy Agatha winner and you will learn a lot more than just where the bodies are buried.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.