It is a fact that no one knows where Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec and Canada, is buried. No one really knows what he looked like. But as the founder of the first colony in Canada (or New France), Champlain has remained a powerful figure in Canadian politics, and Quebec separatism.
And it is these facts about Champlain that form the heart of Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead, the sixth Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery.
I’m not sure how Penny does it, but each of these Gamache mysteries is better than the one before it. Bury Your Dead is downright dazzling; Penny tells the story of four mysteries simultaneously and successfully pulls it off.
The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec is something of an anomaly. It is a library and historical society, but it is an Anglo society in the heart of Old Quebec. Its board is mostly older men and women, and the library is generally a quiet place, deliberately maintaining something of a low profile.
The body of an amateur archaeologist is found in the society’s dirt-floor basement. He’s been bludgeoned with a shovel. This particular archaeologist had a mania for finding the burial place of Champlain, and has had a reputation for some spectacular failures.
Champlain is one mystery; the murder is the second. The third is what Chief Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Surete is doing, spending time with his old boss. And it isn’t a simple friendly visit. Gamache is recovering from a police operation that went very badly. During a rutine traffic stop, a policeman had been killed and a young officer, one of Gamache’s own, taken prisoner. And all we know at the beginning is that Gamache is recovering, including from his own physical wounds.
Gamache’s right-0hand man, Detective Jean-Guy Bouvier, is also recovering from his physical wounds. He is in the village of Three Pines, sent there by Gamache, to see if they arrested the wrong man for murder, the story of The Brutal Telling. The man was convicted and sent to prison. But Gamache knows the mistakes he made with the police operation, and he knows a mistake may have been made in Three Pines.
Four mysteries in all – where Champlain is buried; the murder in the society’s basement; the police operation gone badly; and the case in Three Pines. Not all are connected, and Penny masterfully unfolds and weaves together each of them. It’s history, mystery, police procedure, and the uncovering of human emotions and passions all rolled into one overall story.
And it’s an excellent read.
Photograph: Statue of Samuel de Champlain in Quebec City via Wikimedia Commons.