Review: Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache #6), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010.

Summary: Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave after an attempt to rescue an agent goes terribly wrong. As each faces their own traumas they get caught up in murder investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines.

Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir are wounded and desperately in need of healing in both body and mind. Young Agent Paul Morin, who we met in the previous novel, had been kidnapped while his partner was killed. The kidnapper, on an untraceable phone, tells Gamache that Morin is strapped to a bomb which will detonate in 24 hours, or if he and Gamache stop talking to each other. While Gamache talks, the team, with a critical contribution by Yvette Nichol, discovers both Morin’s location, and a much bigger plot in which this is a diversion. Gamache leads the raid to rescue Morin, which turns out to be an ambush. Agents die, and Beauvoir is wounded as is Gamache, nearly fatally, as he rescues a downed agent. He recovers enough to lead the cortege, but their wounds, their memories of the ambush and the loss of fellow officers remain to be healed. These are among the dead to be grieved and buried and the tale of the kidnapping, desperate investigation, and fatal raid are gradually unfolded over the course of the novel as each remembers fragments and re-tells them.

Gamache has gone to stay in Quebec City with his old Chief, Emile, who had mentored him. It is the time of the Winter Carnival. To distract himself, Gamache and his German shepherd Henri go to the Literary and Historical Library, an archive maintained by the English community amid a sea of French-speaking Quebecois. He spends time investigating a historical battle until–you guessed it–a murder happens in the basement of the library. Augustin Renaud, considered by many an old crank seeking the burial place of Champlain, Quebec’s founder, had asked to speak to the Lit and His (as it was called) board and was refused. The next morning, the phones were out of order, and the repairman found the cause. A dead Renaud had been buried in the basement, cutting the phone line. The local inspector asks Gamache to assist, with the board as prime suspects, and a growing trail of evidence that pointed toward the possible burial place of Champlain. Meanwhile, dead of night walks with Henri and conversations with Emile don’t, of themselves heal Gamache but create the space where he can.

Meanwhile, Beauvoir has returned to Three Pines. He and Gamache had arrested the murderer of a hermit hidden deep in a forest near Three Pines, as told in the previous novel. Yet persistent letters to Gamache of a villager with one question, lead him to ask Beauvoir, ostensibly there to recover, to make sure they had arrested and convicted the right suspect. Beauvoir, initially convinced that they had the right person in custody, begins to uncover evidence and question assumptions, leading to doubts of his own, and the disturbing possibility that the murderer is still in Three Pines. Meanwhile, the most unlikely relationship between him and Ruth Zardo, continues to unfold as Beauvoir processes his own trauma.

Penny masterfully weaves narratives of the search and rescue attempt that went so horribly wrong with the “informal” investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines. Will Gamache find the murderer of the buried Renaud? Will he unravel the mystery that has stumped so many of the burial place of Champlain, and what does the Lit and His have to do with it? Will Beauvoir satisfy the doubts he and Gamache have, or find the real murderer of the hermit? And will any of this help the two of them heal and let the dead lay buried?

One glimpses in Penny’s account what post-traumatic stress can be like for peace officers when their worst nightmare comes true. Penny portrays the wisdom of friends (or whatever you might call it with Ruth) who create the safety where trauma can be faced without trying to pry it open. And we glimpse two men struggling and willing to face the possibility that they had subjected the wrong person to the pain of arrest, trial, and imprisonment. Having survived an ordeal that went terribly wrong, we see a remarkable quality in these two men, the facing of mistakes and the growing and learning from them.

One thought on “Review: Bury Your Dead

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2021 | Bob on Books

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