I Love Chief Inspector Gamache!

Speaking of Louise Penny, I recently finished her most recent book, Bury Your Dead. Holy smoke, kids. It knocked my socks off.

As noted last week, Penny has created a fictional village, Three Pines, which is just south of Montréal and not far from the U.S. border. Three Pines is peopled with an interesting cast of characters—some more likable than others—including Peter and Clara, a married couple who are both artists; Sylvia, a bookstore owner; Ruth Zardo, a well-known poet; Olivier, owner of the local bistro; and Gabri, his partner, who runs a shabby but cozy bed-and-breakfast. And then there are the cops, most importantly Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir; these two have a complicated relationship involving mentoring, respect, and, yes, love.

During the course of six books, these characters and others have been so well developed they seem real. I love to read about them; their personal stories are interesting and, I suspect, will be further developed as the series goes on. (The corollary to this, of course, is that the books are really best read in order, to fully understand the psychological development of the recurring characters. There is also a timeline, of course, but it’s less important.)

The first story in the series (Still Life) was good, although it had some editing and copyediting issues, in my opinion. I don’t mean to damn Still Life with faint praise; it was excellent. But Penny has done nothing but get better (another reason to read them chronologically, particularly if you’re a student of the craft). The last two (The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead) were downright weird, and I mean that in the very best way. Honestly, I’m still reeling from Bury Your Dead.

This book received a starred review from Publishers Weekly (and also a feature story ahead of the book’s release). As mentioned in the review, there are three intricate plotlines, each dependent on the other. (In fact, Bury Your Dead is a follow-up to The Brutal Telling; and while it can be read as a stand-alone, to fully appreciate what Penny accomplished—what a a masterpiece it is—you really should read Brutal Telling first.) Gamache is recovering from a near-fatal injury sustained in the line of duty; while his physical wounds have healed, he is haunted by his memories of the mission that took the lives of several officers on his team. This thread of the story is about the “dead” Gamache must somehow bury in order to continue to do his job, and its denouement carries us right up to the last line of the book.

Bookending this very real, very violent, very intellectually involving tale are two more traditional murder mysteries: one set in Québec City, where Gamache is recuperating and into which he is reluctantly drawn, and the other back in Three Pines, where Beauvoir (also recovering) has been sent to quietly revisit the case we read about in Brutal Telling.

I’ve edited a few mysteries, dear ones, and I gotta tell ya, there is not a word or a clue out of place here. Penny’s writing is elegant, she draws in local and national history and color (Gamache is visiting Québec during the winter carnival; I loved the detail that true Québecois walk down the middle of the street in the winter, rather than on the sidewalks, to avoid being unexpectedly buried in snow sliding from someone’s roof), and the human details she adds to the story are simply exquisite. As PW says, “Few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene.” This book was stunning.

Tweet: Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead knocked my socks off!
Tweet: Louise Penny has done nothing but get better over the course of her Inspector Gamache series.

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2 Trackbacks

  1. By The Bonus Round (2011 Edition) on 29 December, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    […] Blink! (Malcolm Gladwell) Borkman’s Point (Håkan Nesser) Box of Matches, A (Nicholson Baker) Brutal Telling, The (Louise Penny) Bury Your Dead (Louise Penny) Cat in the Hat, The (Dr. Seuss) Cat in the Hat Comes […]

  2. By Short Saturday: Things I Wish I’d Known on 15 September, 2013 at 7:10 am

    […] village Three Pines, not far from Montréal. Readers of this blog know I’m a fan (see this or this, for starters). Penny has a new book out—How the Light Gets In, which debuted at number one on […]