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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny ($14.99) (c2010)

Louise Penny gets better and better. Bury Your Dead still is infused with Penny's signature quiet style and subtle movements, but she again has added more depth to her characters and plot. Only one of her three storylines takes place in the quirky village of Three Pines, although there is some intertwining.

At the end of her prior novel, The Brutal Telling, one of the resident eccentric characters of Three Pines has been imprisoned for murder. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, our thoughtful and cast-against-type hero -- he is often described as resembling a professor more than a police chief -- has reconsidered whether the prisoner (pardon my cagey reluctance to name the prisoner in case some of you may not have read the book) in fact is guilty. He sends Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his second-in-command, to surreptitiously investigate. Since Three Pines is a small village, there's not much that can occur surreptitiously, but Beauvoir attempts to stick out less like a sort thumb than a numb pinkie as he revisits the residents he not-so-secretly considers irritating and provocative. Once again, he looks over the life, such as it was, of "The Hermit," the murder victim, and what relationships he may have had with the townspeople.

Why isn't Gamache himself reviewing the case? He is in Quebec City visiting his mentor, retired detective Émile Comeau, and recovering from physical and psychological wounds received in a police action gone wrong. (Jean-Guy also was a victim of the same action and he uses his recovery as an excuse to visit Three Pines.) The mysterious case that devastated Gamache is slowly revealed throughout the book. One of his young detectives, Paul Morin, had been kidnapped and his captors were threatening to kill him if Gamache and his remaining team could not locate his whereabouts. This story slips in and out of the other narratives without warning. One minute you are reading about the Three Pines investigation, then suddenly you realize you are listening to the inner ruminations of Beauvoir about that case.

The third story is about the death of Augustin Renaud in Quebec City. Although Gamache is on leave and Comeau is retired, they both become involved in helping to solve his murder. Renaud was a true eccentric, a Quixote trying to find the burial site of Quebec's founder and leading light, Samuel de Champlain. (It is a true story that Champlain's final resting place is unknown.) In Penny's fictional universe, Renaud, a Francophone (French-speaking Quebec resident), is found dead in the sub-basement of the Historical and Literary Society's Library, the bastion of the Anglophones (English-speaking) in the tight inner world of Quebec City. This allows Penny to give us an interesting aside on separatist issues. It competes satisfyingly with Penny's interesting asides on Quebec's history and community activities. Mystery and travelogue in one!

We meet many new characters who are associated with the Lit and His, as it is known. It is run by the English -- so-called because they speak English, even though they may also speak French fluently and have families who've resided in Quebec for generations. During his leave, Gamache has been using the library to research a historical question that has interested him, so he is virtually on-site when the murder occurs. His familiarity with the Lit and His people gives him a special insight into the difficult relationship they had with Renaud.

The resolutions to all three cases are stunning. Penny eases us into her story and gradually steps up the tension, until she ties up the ends with a bang and whump.

MBTB has awarded a star to Bury Your Dead.

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