BURY YOUR DEAD – Louise Penny

In that Halloween is rapidly approaching, I thought it would be a nice lead up to the day to post, or re-post, reviews or musings that have something in the title or in the context that can be, when stretched, connected to ghoulies, and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night.

This is a stunning story.  As it opens, Armand Gamache is reliving the worst moments of his life.  A search and rescue mission has gone terribly wrong; people under his command have died and others have been badly wounded.  Gamache lives with the decisions he made but he is steeped in sorrow because of what he believes were his bad choices.  He is consumed by , “if only….”

Gamache is on leave and he and his wife, Reine-Marie, are visiting with Gamache’s old chief and mentor, Emile Comeau.  Armand and Reine-Marie visit Emile frequently since the death of his wife, all three enjoying each other’s company.  When Reine-Marie returns to Montreal, Gamache stays, enjoying quiet days at the Literary and Historical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting all things English in French Quebec.

Gamache is researching Captain Cook and the atmosphere in the beautiful old library is calming to the soul and stimulating to the intellect.  The Lit and His, as it is known, is an oasis in Quebec City, a quiet place out of time gone by.  Gamache looks forward to his meals with Emile, their evening conversations, and his days at the Lit and His.  He has discovered a rhythm to his days that is healing him body and soul.

Then the peace of the library is shattered by the discovery of a body in the basement of the library.  Augustin Renaud is known throughout Quebec City as a pest.  Renaud is on a quest to find the location of the grave of Samuel de Champlain, the Father of Canada.  Renaud has made it his mission to find Champlain’s bones so that they can be interred in a place worthy of the man who created Canada for the French.  Renaud is not deterred by the fact that Champlain died in 1635.  What was Renaud doing in the Lit and His?  Did Renaud really think that the bones had been hidden by the English for nearly 400 years?  Gamache may be on leave but he can’t turn his back on something that happened almost under his nose.

Gamache has not forgotten Three Pines.  Gabri won’t allow it.  Everyday Gamache receives a letter from Gabri with the same message: Why would Olivier move the body? Olivier didn’t do it. When Olivier was convicted of killing the hermit in the woods, Gamache knew that he had lost good friends in Three Pines but he believed that the evidence was clear in pointing to Olivier as the killer.  But, as he reads Gabri’s note everyday, Gamache wonders if he did get it right.  He knows he won’t be welcome in Three Pines so he sends Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir to reassess the motive and the means behind the killing of the hermit in the cabin in the woods.

The author balances three distinct stories in this novel: the murder of Augustin Renaud, the murder of the hermit in Three Pines, and the tragic police action that went so terribly wrong.  Betrayal, jealousy, disloyalty, anger, and revenge flow through the story.  There is deep sadness and loss.  Penny does not spare her characters and she doesn’t spare her readers.  But there is also love and commitment. BURY YOUR DEAD is a powerful story.  It is a story of redemption but a redemption buried in pain.  Penny owns the reader right to the very last line and then, again, well past the closing of the cover.

Had I been  a voter for the Anthony Award, I would have cast a ballot for SHANGHAI MOON.  It is BURY YOUR DEAD that should net Louise Penny many awards for a story that echoes long past the end of the story



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