Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jenn's Review: Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novels)Summary:  It is Winter Carnival in Quebec City, bitterly cold and surpassingly beautiful. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has come not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. But violent death is inescapable, even in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society— where an obsessive historian’s quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder. Could a secret buried with Champlain for nearly 400 years be so dreadful that someone would kill to protect it?
Although he is supposed to be on leave, Gamache cannot walk away from a crime that threatens to ignite long-smoldering tensions between the English and the French. Meanwhile, he is receiving disquieting letters from the village of Three Pines, where beloved Bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder. “It doesn't make sense,” Olivier’s partner writes every day. “He didn't do it, you know.” As past and present collide in this astonishing novel, Gamache must relive the terrible event of his own past before he can bury his dead.

Review: This book was sent to me as an ARC via Library Thing's Early Reviewers, and if I hadn't felt an obligation to review it, I might not have finished it. This was a difficult read for me for several reasons. First and foremost, it is the sixth book of the series and I didn't feel that Louise Penny made much of an attempt to engage first time readers with her characters. Of course it didn't help that there were three stories, two evolving concurrently, and the third, a case that keeps being relived, which gravely injured both Gamache and his second in command, Beauvoir. Both are currently on medical leave and neither can let go of the failed rescue mission that nearly killed them. It is this past case that is probably the most interesting part of the entire book.
Unfortunately, Penny chooses to painfully drag this story out as both characters deal with the aftermath differently. The combination of stories creates multitudes of characters and case details of which the reader needs to keep track.

Secondly, there is a lot of political unrest in this novel. I hate political bickering of any kind, but this struck me more so. There isn't a Canadian who doesn't have an opinion on the Anglo/Franco situation in Quebec, and I am no different. (If you are unfamiliar with the politics of Quebec, think Northern Ireland minus the violence, we're Canadians, after all.) Yes, I knew the storyline of the book was centralized in Quebec when I volunteered to review it, but so are many of Kathy Reichs' books, and I have no issue with those. My opinions aside, I hate power struggles, so the political diatribe of the storyline truly ate at me.
Louise Penny's writing style is often compared to Agatha Christie, and I see the comparison, but not necessarily in a good way. She has a florid style of writing that seems too whimsical for a thriller genre. For example, "She was grateful he hadn't said murder. It was too shocking a word. She'd been testing it out in the safety of her own head, but wasn't yet ready to take it out in public."~ (pg 35) Does anyone really think like that?!? To me the elegance comes across as unnatural and dated. Penny also has a habit of jumping points of view from character to character. Most authors reserve those kinds of shifts for chapter breaks, but Penny will do it several times a page, sometimes within the same paragraph. It's tiring.

I also found some of the plot points outlandish. I understand that Gamache would be asked to assist with the case as a courtesy, but to let him single-handedly conduct his own investigation while never checking in with the lead investigator on the case? That sounds a little bizarre. I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to prove me wrong, but the resolution of this mystery was fairly straight forward and not horribly mysterious.  There is also tons of history entrenched in this storyline which, while well researched, bogged down an already over laden story.

The secondary story is actually the central case of book five in the series. There was some disappointment in it's resolution among her fans, and perhaps with the author herself because she has Gamache send Beauvoir, to unofficially reopen the case. Beauvoir is also on medical leave and this angle seems a little farfetched as well. I believe that Beauvoir would do anything the chief asked, but I can't fathom how far things went without going through official channels. Both Beauvoir and Gamache seem to like to grandstand their case results in front of an audience of suspects too (very Agatha Christie). I can see this as plausible in some situations to draw a suspect out, but the long speeches seemed a little cliché.

I cannot speak for the rest of the Gamache series, not having read it, I can only speak for this as a standalone novel. This book tried to be too many things: an history lesson, a psychological profile, a rewrite, a mystery, an example of elegant prose.  I can see where this award winning author's work would have a solid fan base. However, I don't think I'm her target audience.

Final Take:  2.5/5



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