One of the best things about being a librarian is having the ability to recommend great books to eager readers. I get to learn about all sorts of genres and the authors who write in them.
My dad was an avid reader so when he was in hospice with multiple myeloma he wanted me to recommend some good reads. The Brutal Telling had just come out on Playaway, which is a small MP3 player that contains one audio book. My dad couldn’t hold a book or maneuver a cd player at that point so this was perfect for him. I had read great reviews of Louise Penny’s books and had always meant to try one. So Dad started reading The Brutal Telling and was thrilled to tell me and my husband, Joe (also a librarian!), all about it. This, of course, prompted us to pick up the book and read along. All three of us fell in love with Louise’s writing, with her wonderful characters and with Three Pines. My dad was nearly to the end of the book when he started to take a turn for the worse and he passed away before he had a chance to finish it. During the second day of his wake, when all of us were saying goodbye to him, Joe told me to go ahead so he could be alone with my dad. . . . A few minutes later he told me that he wanted to tell Dad how the book ended.
So then I went back and started with Still Life and caught up to the rest of the series. When I read Bury Your Dead, I thought of my dad and how he would have loved the storylines and the continued investigation into the murder of the Hermit. After it was released, my library was host to Louise as she entertained 200+ very loyal fans. So I’m very pleased to be participating in the reread. Oh, and you’ll be meeting Joe as well . . . he’s bringing you Bury Your Dead’s Recap Part 2.
With Bury Your Dead, Louise Penny brings us not one, not two, but three brilliant storylines. She uses flashbacks to tell the tale of a rescue gone awry, in a way she has not done previously. The complexity of Gamache’s character comes center stage.
Each of the three storylines will be handled separately.
Recap (Chapters 1-11)
The book opens with an adrenaline-pumping description of a police stakeout . . . and the reveal that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has made a mistake. What mistake? What could he have possibly done and how long must we wait to find out!?
Murder at the Lit and His:
Flash forward to the present day as Gamache is being consoled by his mentor, Emile Comeau. As a result of the mysterious incident (and the urging of his wife, Reine-Marie), Gamache takes a sabbatical to the quiet of Quebec City during Winter Caranaval to recoup.
While there, Gamache decides to take advantage of one of Québec City’s most iconic institutions, the Literary and Historical Society, to research the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. During the infamous battle, French General Montcalm was defeated by the English General Wolfe—a fate which took Canada out of French rule and handed it to the British. Gamache meets the librarian Winnie and various members of the Society’s board. While there, a body is discovered in the basement of building and our recovering Chief Inspector gets roped into the investigation.
The body is that of Augustin Renaud, a Champlain scholar who made it his life’s work to discover where Québec’s hero is buried. It seems that Renaud had consistently attempted to gain an audience with the Lit and His Board because he believed that Champlain was buried in their basement. Apparently, the man had a habit of making a nuisance of himself. While investigating, Gamache speaks with board members Elizabeth MacWhirter and Porter Wilson. The police state that Renaud was killed by a shovel at approximately 11 the previous evening . . . and that someone had to have let him into the subbasement where he was found.
Elizabeth MacWhirter meets Gamache at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where they discuss the theory that the “English” may have murdered Renaud to keep the secret that Champlain was buried under the Lit and His. We then meet the young minister Thomas Hancock. Gamache asks if he is Québécois but as it turns out, he was born in New Brunswick. The Reverend sat on the Lit and His board for 18 months and tells Gamache that the Society refused to speak with Renaud. Gamache asks who has access to the basement and Hancock tells him that Winnie does. He then goes on to say that the subbasement where the body was discovered was scheduled to be cemented over in a couple of days.
Emile invites Gamache to the Château Frontenac hotel to meet with two gentlemen from the Champlain Society. René Dallaire and Jean Hamel tell Gamache that Champlain is believed to be buried near his statue in the city. The chapel where the statue now stands was burned along with all of their burial records, making it difficult to find his body. The other, more controversial, theory is that they dumped his body in a landfill while Québec City was expanding. Gamache visits the Notre Dame cathedral and meets a Father Sébastien to talk about Renaud. While there, he is told that the portrait that is most associated with Champlain is really that of Louis XIII’s accountant.
In the meantime, the board gathers to listen to Porter give a radio interview about the murder. Elizabeth then reminisces about the Separatist revolt in 1966 and how the Lit and His, an “English” institution, was attacked.
Gamache meets Inspector Langlois at Renaud’s home, which is covered with Champlainalia. After hours of searching, he comes across the diaries of Augustin Renaud.
Hermit’s Murder Revisited:
At the close of The Brutal Telling we discover that bistro owner Olivier Brulé is accused of murdering a man referred to as The Hermit. After Olivier’s arrest, Gamache starts receiving letters every day from Olivier’s partner, the affable Gabri, stating, “Why would Olivier move the body?” Gabri’s prodding prompts Gamache to send his assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir to Three Pines to unofficially investigate.
As Beauvoir arrives in Three Pines, we have a recap of what happened in the previous book. Olivier had discovered that a hermit, who lived in a cabin in the woods, had an amazing talent for carving sculptures. Olivier exchanged food for the works of art and sold them and other valuables to an antiques dealer for a huge profit. The Hermit was later beaten to death and the weapon found in Olivier’s possession.
In Three Pines, Beauvoir visits the new inn, run by Carole Gilbert. While there he is introduced to Roar Parra, who, along with his wife Hanna and their son Havoc were all previously suspects in the murder of the Hermit.
Beauvoir decides to visit the scene of the crime and takes a Ski-doo to the Hermit’s cabin. On his ride he suddenly collapses from overwhelming “familiar” pain, only to be rescued by Dr. Vincent Gilbert, the hated “asshole saint.”
Upon recovering, Beauvoir visits Olivier in prison and tells him that Gamache has asked him to investigate his case further. Olivier admits that he has lied and proceeds to tell him how he became involved with the Hermit. He shares how he visited the Hermit every two weeks to gather the valuable goods to sell for his own profit. The Hermit had scratched the words Charlotte, Emily and Woo in carvings that he had made. Olivier confides to Beauvoir that he moved the body to implicate Mark Gilbert, the owner of the new inn in town.
Beauvoir proceeds to visit the shop where Olivier had sold the Hermit’s goods, the Temps Perdu. He questions the shop owner about Olivier’s items, under the ruse that he was Olivier’s partner and that he had died. Afterwards, Beauvoir calls to speak with Olivier, who admits to yet another lie, the Hermit was not Czech.
Now back to the story which permeates the whole book: The stakeout. In the beginning of Bury Your Dead we learn that Gamache is speaking to a young person via a set of headphones, telling the mystery listener that nothing bad will happen to him. Then we see that time is counting down: 47 seconds… 43 seconds… 36 seconds… All we know at this point is that officers are in an abandoned factory building with automatic weapons, ready to infiltrate. At this moment, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache realizes that he’s made a mistake.
As our other storylines unfold, so does the story behind the stakeout. A note from Agent Isabelle Lacoste tells Gamache that the atmosphere is intense at the Sûreté. Then we flash to memories of a funeral with uniformed officers: the first realization that someone has died.
And now the slow unfolding of the story, a brilliant device. While Gamache finds solitude at the Lit and His his peace is interrupted by haunting memories of gunshots, exploding wood and the words, “I believe you, Sir.” The fireworks for the opening festivities of the Carnaval de Québec prompt Gamache to remember that Beauvoir was shot on the factory floor.
Throughout the next several chapters Gamache recalls conversations with Agent Morin, the Sûreté officer who lovingly played the violin in the Hermit’s cabin in The Brutal Telling. The two talk about Morin’s childhood and his first swimming lesson. He speaks of his upcoming nuptials and Gamache tells of the Apache prayer that was spoken at his wedding with Reine-Marie.
We see the story through Beauvoir’s eyes as well. We discover that an officer, who had been investigating a stopped car had been shot. Agent Morin was apparently present at the incident.
Gamache then gets a call from a frantic man who was pulled over with a flat tire, a gun in his front seat. The man was terrified that the officers would find out what he was carrying in the back of his truck and, in turn, ended up shooting the officer and kidnapping Morin.
While on the phone with Morin, Gamache tells him about the Apache blessing that he and Reine-Marie used at their wedding. I was floored when I read it in Bury Your Dead because, oddly enough, Joe and I used it at our wedding as well. Here it is, in its entirety:
Now you will feel no rain
For each of you will be shelter for the other
Now you will feel no cold
For each of you will be warmth for the other
Now there is no loneliness for you
Now there is no more loneliness.
Now you are two persons, but there is one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place
To enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon this earth.
1. Rene said, “I sometimes think we are a rowboat society. It’s why Québec is so perfectly preserved. It’s why we’re all so fascinated with history. We’re in a rowboat. We move forward, but we’re always looking back.” Do you think this is true? Is it unique to Québec?
2. Anti-English sentiment is a theme that runs throughout the book. For American readers; were you surprised that this still exists today? For our Canadian fans, have you ever encountered this?
3. Pere Sebastien tells Gamache there are a lot of reasons for murder. Gamache answers back that there is actually only one. “Beneath all the justifications, all the psychology, all the motives given, like revenge or jealousy, there lies the real reason. Fear. Fear of losing what you have or not getting what you want.” True?
4. Which of the three storylines appeals to you the most?
5. Gamache seems newly vulnerable—and fallible—in this book, compared to the earlier titles in the series. How does this change your view of him?
6. Do you think Beauvoir’s cynical view of Three Pines is beginning to change, and if so, how?