Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Bury Your Dead

Bury Your DeadBury Your Dead by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How would you like to take a trip to Québec City? Read the mystery novel, Bury Your Dead, for your foray into the history and culture of Québec. Take a tour through the old town, the fortified walls; see a cannonball embedded at the base of a tree which had merely continued to grow around it.

Set in the grip of winter during Carnival, Bury Your Dead involves four cleverly interwoven mysteries involving history, politics and memory. The body of a man is found in a shallow grave in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, the last bastion of English culture in Québec City. The deceased is an infamous amateur archaeologist who was determined to locate where Samuel de Champlain was buried. Discovering the remains of the father of New France is a preoccupation of Québec nationalists. Finding the body in the “Lit & His” makes it appear that the English have used deadly force to stop the Champlain hunter when he came to dig on their territory. The ever-present friction between the French and the English is aroused.

In addition, a past case is re-opened and the main investigators are recovering from a recent traumatic event. In each situation, there are people with secrets.

The unifying theme of all four strands is summed up in the title, Bury Your Dead, the “need to both respect the past and let it go” (x). The novel is very well researched and offers the reader an education on early Canadian history, as well as touching on issues present in modern Québec. For example, Penny addresses some of the quirks and tensions of everyday life in the province: “They found themselves in the not unusual situation in Québec where, to be polite, the French person was speaking English and, to be polite, the English spoke French.” (45) How true!

Bury Your Dead is a fantastic guide to the real Québec City. I enjoyed literally inhabiting the lives of the characters by visiting the places mentioned in the book, particularly the Lit & His, as well as the cafés where Gamache has his great bowls of cafe au lait. The book, in fact, is an homage, a love letter to Québec City.

I was never bored by the storytelling, but I did prefer to inhabit the main storyline set in Québec City. Bury Your Dead is my first Inspector Gamache novel, and funny enough, I didn't warm to the characters from Three Pines (the setting for most of the series) as much as the rest. Maybe I need to read the previous books in the series to get to know the Three Pines characters better. On the other hand, the author has skillfully written this book so it isn’t mandatory to first read the previous novels in the series in order to enjoy and understand this one.

The author, Louise Penny, states in her opening acknowledgments that “Bury Your Dead is not about death, but about life” (x). It is no wonder that the novel is set during Carnival, in the dead of winter, in a cold, cold city where there is so much going on, so much light and life. It is the particular brand of Québécois joie de vivre that Penny illustrates, and I am glad that I had Bury Your Dead as my travel companion on my recent trip to Québec.

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