Bury Your Dead is book number six in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series but, as has so often been the case for me, I am arriving late to the party. This audio book is my first experience with Louise Penny and the Chief Inspector. However, if Bury Your Dead is any indication as to the quality of the five earlier books, I have some great reading ahead of me because now I plan to catch myself up on the entire series.
There are several unrelated plotlines in Bury Your Dead and Louise Penny juggles them like a champion, maintaining the reader’s keen interest in each of them as they slowly reach their separate climaxes. In addition, and an aspect of the book that particularly appealed to me, there is a very painless history lesson at the heart of the murder with which Armand Gamache is most directly connected.
Gamache is resting in Quebec City following an investigation that went horribly wrong some six months earlier, leaving him so severely wounded that he was lucky to have survived. He spends his time researching the old English language books in the city’s Literary and Historical Society building, particularly those referring to the fateful 1759 battle between British and French troops (Battle of the Plains of Abraham) that would ultimately result in France losing her claim on eastern North America to the British for good. Although the battle occurred more than two centuries ago, there is still a lingering animosity between the majority French-speaking citizens of Quebec and the minority English-speaking portion of the population. Gamache senses that this mistrust and animosity may have played a key role in the murder he is trying to solve.
Augustin Renauld, one of Quebec’s francophone citizens, is on a mission to discover the location of the missing remains of Samuel de Champlain, Quebec’s founding father. That Renauld’s body is discovered inside the anglophone Literary and Historical Society library creates a politically sensitive atmosphere that complicates the investigation of his murder. Gamache, a francophone himself, realizes this and investigates Renauld’s murder with current day politics always in mind.
At the same time, Gamache has asked that Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir do his own recuperating in the little town of Three Pines so that he can unofficially reopen a murder case that happened there (featured in book five of the series) because Gamache is uneasy about whether the right man has been convicted of the murder. (This part of Bury Your Dead does make me wish I had read book five before this one.)
That Penny is able to keep the two investigations separate in her readers’ minds while reminding them of the connection between Gamache, Beauvoir, the convicted Three Pines murderer and many of the citizens of Three Pines, is a difficult enough task. That she manages, at the same time, to intertwine the details of the case that only six months earlier almost killed both Gamache and Beauvoir is even more remarkable.
Fans of character-driven mysteries will love Bury Your Dead. The murders are not complicated or unusual, but the amount of time spent developing the book’s main characters is. Even the bit players in the story seem to be real people. This one had everything I enjoy most in a mystery, not the least being an emphasis on atmosphere, backstory, characters, and a history lesson.
The audio version of Bury Your Dead, excellently read by Ralph Cosham, is ten CDs and thirteen hours long. Despite the complicated structure of the book, the audio version is easy to follow once the numerous French names have been assimilated by the non-francophone “reader.”
Rated at: 5.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)