Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

by Joan Baril
A long time ago, in another lifetime, I was a military wife living at Camp Valcartier military base outside Quebec City.  My biggest problem in a francophone milieu was the difficulty finding reading material in English but my sanity was saved by a fellow military wife, Margaret Wylie, who told me about a private Anglophone library in Quebec City called The Literary and Historical Society and suggested I join. 

Louise Penny has made the Literary and Historical Society library the centrepiece of her mystery novel, Bury Your Dead.  Her detective hero, Inspector Gamache, becomes involved when a dead body is found in the sub basement of the historical building, a body which leads him into the labyrinths of Quebec history.

The Lit and His is tucked among a warren of narrow streets in Upper Town and when I arrived there so long ago, I received a warm welcome from the librarian as well as a feeling of dizzy disorientation as I stared around the wood-panelled book-lined room to see, tier upon tier, shelves of books, all for the taking. I had found heaven.  And now, what fun to see the venerable institution play a leading role in a fine who-done-it.

Inspector Gamache, a likable guy, recovering from the trauma of a hostage taking gone wrong, is soon interviewing and and seeking out historical threads, while at the same time his subordinate is in the cozy Quebec village of Three Pines re-opening a case from a previous book, The Brutal Telling. Clues abound as we switch between the two cases as well as learn the tragic facts of  the hostage taking which has so psychologically devastated the inspector.

Penny salts her book with plenty of local colour and history as Gamache interrogates members of the Champlain Society, walks the old streets and the Plains of Abraham, takes coffee at the Chateau Frontenac, visits Montcalm's grave, views the famous ice race across the river and discusses separatism with a colleague.  Her modern Quebec City is a friendly, cozy place with bistros, coffee shops and bakeries, brimming with croissants, hot chocolate and baguettes.

My Quebec of the fifties was a cold, dreary, puritanical place with few restaurants, and no coffee shops, without a croissant or a baguette or any sort of memorable food, where the Valentine cupids wore skirts, where birth control was forbidden, where the premier, the quasi-fascist Maurice Duplessis ruled the province from his suite in the Chateau Frontenac, where corruption was endemic, where television was forbidden until after dinner because it would "distract the housewife from her housework" and the laws made sure married women were subordinate in their marriages.  These  noir years are not mentioned in Penny's book which concentrates on the valiant history of New France and perhaps it is just as well because the ancient past makes a much more sweeping and interesting setting for a crackling murder mystery and the new wonderful modern Quebec, which miraculously rose out of the ashes of the old, is what should be emphasized and acclaimed.

Penny now lives in Quebec but she spent time in Thunder Bay working for  CBC radio here and Confederation College so one could say she is an honourary citizen of the city. 

Bury Your Dead is her sixth book and a good one. Her latest, another Inspector Gamache story, has just been released. It is titled A Trick of Light.

Louise Penny

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