My fiftieth and final book for fiftyfiftyme 2012 proved to be one of the most satisfying reads of the year. A remarkable mystery story, quite different to many. When I reflected on this book it reminded me somewhat of the later Albert Campion stories. For me, there can be no higher praise. I love the nuanced complexity and humanity of Allingham’s detective, and Bury Your Dead seemed to echo that inward focus on the central protagonist.
The book, the sixth in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, sees Gamache on recuperative leave after a police operation that cost the lives of several of his team. The story of what happened and how is told in a series of flashbacks, interwoven with the murder mystery of the previous novel, The Brutal Telling and a new murder related to a genuine historical mystery.
The genuine mystery is the disappearance of the body of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec. In the story Gamache is in Québec City, distracting himself by doing some historical sleuthing of his own into a possible deal between Louis Antoine de Bougainville and James Cook during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. While there he gets involved in the investigation into the murder of a man fanatically devoted to finding out what happened to de Champlain’s body.
In The Brutal Telling, Penny worked some of the history of the Haida and Haida Gwaii into the story. In Bury Your Dead, the history of Québec City is the focus, especially the history of the relationship between the Francophone majority and the waning Anglophone minority. Samuel de Champlain’s role as an icon of Québec and a symbol for the separatists lies at heart of the mystery. Penny’s research was very detailed, as illustrated by an amusing incident she recounts in the acknowledgements. Once again, I finished one of her books knowing a lot more about Québec and its people, even down to small details like why Québécois walk in the middle of the road in winter.
While Gamache is investigating a modern day murder with its roots in the seventeenth century, he asks his deputy Jean-Guy Beauvoir to use his recuperative leave to return to Three Pines and unofficially re-examine the murder that was investigated in The Brutal Telling. During his time there, Beauvoir recounts the details of the operation that cost the lives of several of their team, and uncovers new information on the previous murder.
The Brutal Telling surprised me by the way the mystery unfolded. Bury Your Dead impressed and surprised me by building the story around the mistakes and fallibility of the central character. It was this detailed examination of the frailties and failings of the detective, and a focus on the psychological aftermath of failure that reminded me of Allingham’s later Campion stories. Penny makes her detectives interesting people who learn something about themselves as they solve the crimes they face.
This really was an outstanding book, one that thoroughly deserved all the awards it won. I thought The Brutal Telling was exceptional, but Penny lifted her game still further with this one. Very intricately plotted, weaving together three fictional mysteries and a fourth real one, this is the best mystery story I’ve read this year. I look forward to the next in the series as part of my fiftyfiftyme challenge for 2013, and I urge anyone who enjoys good crime fiction to give this series a go. If not the whole series, then at least The Brutal Telling followed by Bury Your Dead. I’m sure you will not be disappointed.