Often it can be difficult to review a book in the middle of the series, particularly on the first read through. I don’t know, for example, what will happen to the characters in this story as the next 6 novels progress, I only know that they exist.
This means that I can only trace the works as they culminate in this book, Bury Your Dead. Bury Your Dead is, however, not a book which can stand alone: it is inextricably tied to its predecessor The Brutal Telling. I will have to spoil that book in order to discuss this one, so after the next paragraph, SPOILERS as far as the eye can see.
I listen to these on audio, since Ralph Cosham was the perfect pair to the material. I cannot recommend highly enough that you take this series on if you enjoy classic mystery novels. In an interview at the tail end of the recording Penny discusses the adventure of creating these books and building the community of Three Pines, the characters who inhabit it, and those who come to visit. She speaks earnestly about creating characters true to life, and not caricatures. I was also pleasantly excited to hear her discuss these books as not being cozies, which I certainly didn’t think they were. Penny is an author with a good idea, the character of Inspector Gamache, and she is dedicated to exploring all the stories that build out the person he is, and the various facets of a personality.
Penny uses a new layout for her arsenal to tell three stories simultaneously. We work forward in time with two, and backwards in the third.
Of the two plots which work in forward time, the first links with the end of The Brutal Telling. Gamache and company arrested Olivier for the murder of the hermit. Olivier has told too many lies, and while Gamache has built and the prosecutors have won the case against him and he is in jail. Bury Your Dead picks up over a year later, with Olivier in prison and his partner Gabriel writing Gamache a letter every day, enclosing his favorite candy and a handwritten note with one question “why would Olivier move the body if he committed the murder?”. Gamache is unsure about his findings following another tramatic event, and deploys Beauvoir to build the case as if Olivier is innocent.
The plot which unfolds in reverse order, with a touch of nonlinear storytelling deployed, is that of how Gamache and Beauvoir came to be recovering from nearly catastrophic injuries and the discovery of who kidnapped Agent Moran. The final thread is that of the investigation of a murder in Quebec which Gamache finds himself pulled into as he finishes his convalescence at his former chief’s home.
Other than time this various strings would not necessarily be bound together, and the novel could certainly be read on a surface level where you do not unpack anything further. I am occasionally guilty of doing just that with the Inspector Gamache books. However, the struggle to face our shortcomings, and our fears, and our mistakes its linked across every facet of this novel. Penny continues to tell us stories about art, food, and death as well as meditations on the human condition.
I’ll be continuing with book 7, A Trick of the Light, later this year… just as soon as I figure out when its set. Penny intentionally set the first four in the four different seasons of the year and I am feeling vindicated by my choice to listen to these in the time they are set in the calendar year (and 6.5, The Hangman, too).