Bury Your Dead

bury-your-deadBury Your Dead is the sixth of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache novels (and the third I’ve read this year.) It follows closely on The Brutal Telling, revisiting events from that book and following through on the heavy foreshadowing Penny did there. It also has three of its own mysteries, so it’s a tightly-packed novel. This one takes place mostly not in the dreamy little village of Three Pines, but in Quebec City in the middle of winter, during Carnival.

There’s a lot of melancholy here. Chief Inspector Gamache, usually the center of calm, wisdom, and emotional insight in these novels, has been knocked off base by two things: a recent terrorist attack gone badly wrong, in which he and some of his people were injured, and the events of The Brutal Telling, in which he’s afraid he jailed the wrong person for a nasty murder. Gamache is staying with his friend and mentor in Quebec City, trying to get his feet back under him, and he is doing a little desultory research at the Lit and Hist, a small library maintained by the tiny, proud, defensive English-speaking community in the city. When… you guessed it… someone is murdered, and the body turns up in the library’s cellar.

The narrative goes back and forth. We see Gamache’s work to uncover the murderer of Augustin Renaud, an eccentric who has been working all his life to find the body of Samuel Champlain, Quebec’s founder. We hear his anguish as he remembers the events of the terrorist attack, and although we don’t know exactly what happened until late in the novel (which feels a bit manipulative, frankly) we’re able to guess enough to hope we’re wrong. We also follow Gamache’s own guesswork about Samuel Champlain himself, a historical mystery that doesn’t have a good solution. In Three Pines, Jean Guy Beauvoir has been sent to see if there’s a chance they got the wrong murderer last time; is there something they missed? And although he doesn’t believe a word of it, he obeys the boss and finds himself — eventually — able to open his mind. The braid of this plot, complex as it is, is well-handled; Penny knows what she’s doing, and she keeps the whole machine moving well.

Teresa just posted a critical review of the first of these mysteries, saying it was a bit too cozy for her and that she didn’t find the treatment of the antagonist very nuanced. Fair enough. I like these books pretty well, and as they go on they tend to give all the characters a fair shake, even those you think are never going to develop or grow. The one thing that bothers me about them — and this hasn’t changed in six books — is the prose. Louise Penny really, really likes sentence fragments. From no more than two or three random pages:

Gamache returned the older man’s smile and made a fist of his right hand. To stop the trembling.

Across tables across the province he and Gamache had sat. Just like this.

He wished he could take that hand and hold it steady and tell him it would be all right. Because it would, he knew. With time.

He examined Elizabeth. Plain, tall, and slim.

Aghhhh! This kind of choppy writing is absolutely endemic to Penny’s prose and once you see it, it can’t be unseen. It’s making me asthmatic. It’s pulling me out of the story. As much as I enjoy these books — and I do, I think there’s plenty here to like — I have to steel myself for this style. Perhaps this is the problem with reading three of them in a year? Or with reading them next to W.G. Sebald, with his eight-page sentence? Whatever it is — I will keep reading and enjoying these mysteries, but with the caveat that the choppy prose has been giving me more and more trouble as we go on.


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14 Responses to Bury Your Dead

  1. readerlane says:

    I enjoy this series, too — and, for me, the books and characters have become more nuanced as the series continues. Just as sentence fragments bother you, I can only take so much of Three Pines at a time, and the books set mainly elsewhere like “The Brutual Telling” have been my favorites. I guess part of what I like about this series is the risks the author takes with her characters and how a book like ” The Brutual Telling” makes the reader look back and re-interpret previous events. The author really plots for the long term, not just one book at a time…

    • Jenny says:

      I didn’t care for A Rule Against Murder much, which took place at the Manoir Bellechasse, but I did like this one a lot. And I agree with you completely that the characters have been given a chance to grow and develop, which is not something you can say of every series. I appreciate the arc of it very much.

  2. Jeanne says:

    I like the title of this book ;-)

    • Jenny says:

      Have you read any of these, Jeanne? There’s a character in them, Ruth Zardo, who is a poet, and her poetry is actually the poetry of Margaret Atwood and Marylyn Plessner and various other poets. (Used by permission, of course.) It’s an odd thing, something I’ve never seen done in a novel before.

  3. Ack! If I noticed the fragments, I didn’t find them irritating. I had better wait a while before reading the next installment so that I’ve forgotten about them by then. :-0

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, I think three in a year was too many for me! I’m interested in the characters but may have to take a break for a bit. Not that there’s not plenty of other things to read!

  4. whatmeread says:

    Interesting. I’ve read all her books without noticing that and I usually pay attention to style. I liked this one for the setting particularly.

  5. Elle says:

    Augh, totally with you on sentence fragments. Authors that overdo them become, perversely, almost harder to read than authors who write Sebaldian eight-pagers! And as you say, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it…

    • Jenny says:

      It feels sort of overwhelming after a while, as if she thinks it makes the sentence feel more important, but at this point I think it’s just a tic. She’s an extremely popular author (and her writing is otherwise pretty workmanlike, especially the descriptions of sandwiches, if you like that sort of thing) and I doubt any editor will ask her to change it now.

  6. for the real story about Champlain’s tomb, see my blog (in french). http://www.pierredubeaublog.wordpress.com

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