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‘You can’t live in the past and you certainly can’t undo it. What happened to Uncle Saul has nothing to do with you. Memories can kill, Yvette. The past can reach right up and grab you and drag you to a place you shouldn’t be. Like a burning building.’

In a soft voice he’d whispered, ‘Bury your dead.’

Penny, Louise (2007-05-15). A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (p. 254). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.

I have been thinking about my dead this month. April is a month that is heavy in loss for me. My older brother, Steve, died on the 28th, in 2011 after losing his war with cancer. I barely had time to grieve that loss when my husband died the following April 2nd. I've written about both losses and those diaries can be found in the links.

But this month, having reread Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, I have devoted more time to the memories that are worth keeping instead of burying.

When we married, our standing joke was that the key to a happy marriage could be found in two simple rules: 1) I was always right and 2) It was always his fault. After a while I gave up on the first rule because perfection is exhausting and my nature tends toward lazy. But I continued to polish my skills in making the second rule true. I delighted in amusing him with the torturous mental gymnastics that I could use to turn any stupid mistake on my part into something for which he was ultimately responsible.

Last week I wrote about the stupid mistake that I made with a bottle of Thousand Island Dressing that resulted in the worst case of food poisoning that I have ever experienced. If you have forgotten, the first sentence of the second half of that diary read:

It never would have happened had Ed still been alive.
See what I did there? The poor dear man has been dead for over two years now, and I am still making him responsible for my fuck-ups. When I realized what I had done, it cracked me up. And I know that somewhere, Ed chuckled as well.

Although it sounds rather self-aggrandizing, I think living with Ed for over thirty years has made me kinder. A nicer person. And that trend seems to have continued after his death. It is not that I was particularly unkind before; actually, I never gave much thought to kindness either way. But since I lost Ed, I find myself making that extra little gesture, giving that extra, deserved compliment to a cashier or customer service rep. I don't know why.

Last night, while out for dinner with friends, I actually said that I thought two young children were adorable. Which is only remarkable when you know my history of inevitably being seated next to a table of screeching, squabbling children and being very unhappy about it. So here I am, unthinkingly, saying something nice about a pair of toddlers, much to the amazement of my friends who have known me forever.

See, even though I finally gave away his dress shoes, I don't think Ed is really gone. I think the best part of him has somehow been incorporated into my own character. The kindness, the appreciation of others, the generosity of spirit are all now part of who I am becoming. Fortunately, he took his affection for tailgating at high speed with him. But the love is still here. And that is something I have no intention of burying. Ever.

Bury Your Dead
by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books
September 28th 2010
384 pages

I actually started listening to this book when I was too sick to read. The narrator of the Inspector Gamache series is Ralph Cosham and he has a wonderful voice. Winner of multiple Audies for his work as a narrator, I could listen to him read anything (including Watership Down).

It is one of my favorite Penny books, for the story, the continuing character development and the deft craftsmanship she displays in braiding together three different mysteries into one solid entertainment. Bury Your Dead should be read only after reading The Brutal Telling at the very least. But I recommend starting with Still Life and reading them all.

When the novel opens, Armand Gamache is in Old Quebec City, visiting his mentor, Emile Comeau, and recovering from wounds suffered in a major case gone terribly wrong. Sadly, his wounds aren't merely physical but also include devastating injuries to his psyche. He knows that he made a mistake and lives were lost as a result.

We learn about this case through flashbacks as Gamache does research on the battle of The Plains of Abraham at the Literary and Historical Society, the English speaking cultural center and library located in the old city. Interestingly, he concentrates on the mistakes made by the French commander Montcalm that cost the French the battle. While doing that research he is unofficially drawn into the investigation of a murder in the library basement. That victim had been investigating the mystery of the burial site of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec.

And if that is not enough mysteries to keep track of, there is a resolved case that Gamache is having second thoughts about. Fearing that the possibility exists that he has made yet another mistake, and sent the wrong man to prison, Gamache asks Jean Guy Beauvoir to go back to Three Pines to quietly re-investigate. Jean Guy is also suffering the aftereffects of the last case that went so terribly wrong, and is also on leave from the Surete to recover from the wounds that almost killed him.

There is enough Three Pines action to please all of those who wish to relocate there, but Penny also uses this opportunity to allow us to explore Old Quebec City. The action occurs during the Carnaval de Quebec, in the deep winter, both of which help set the tone for the tale. A walking tour based on the events of Bury Your Dead has been created for those who can't get enough Louise Penny. Fully endorsed by Ms Penny, and aided by the folks of the Literary & Historical Society, it can be found here. Personally, I am waiting for the walking tour of Three Pines before I get excited.

The tension that still exists between the Anglophones and the Francophones is explored in this novel. Polite Anglophones try to use French when speaking with Francophones who use English in speaking with them. Not all are successful. Some are hilarious. But it is interesting to observe how the differences play out in daily activities. There are Anglophones who fight to preserve their heritage in a society becoming ever more French, and their are Francophones who are still working for a separatist state. Penny casts a compassionate eye on both sides of the dispute.

In order to solve any or all of the mysteries, it is necessary that the characters bury their dead. That they accept any mistakes of the past and move forward with the second chances that life has offered. As they struggle to work their way through the restricting chains of their memories, Armand Gamache, Jean Guy Beavouir, and the villagers of Three Pines all grow in richness of character. The resolution of the mysteries are by turn satisfying, somewhat sad and even surprising.

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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