A novel about life and deathand all the mystery that remainsfrom #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is on break from duty in Three Pines to attend the famed Winter Carnival up north. He has arrived in this beautiful, freezing city not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. Still, violent death is inescapableeven here, in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society, where one obsessive academic’s quest for answers will lead Gamache down a dark path. . .
Meanwhile, Gamache is receiving disturbing news from his hometown village. Beloved bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder but everyoneincluding Gamachebelieves that he is innocent. Who is behind this sinister plot? Now it’s up to Gamache to solve this killer case. . .and relive a terrible event from his own past before he can begin to bury his dead.
“Few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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Read an Excerpt
Bury Your Dead
By Louise Penny
Minotaur BooksCopyright © 2010 Three Pines Creations, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Up the stairs they raced, taking them two at a time, trying to be as quiet as possible. Gamache struggled to keep his breathing steady, as though he was sitting at home, as though he had not a care in the world.
"Sir?" came the young voice over Gamache's headphones.
"You must believe me, son. Nothing bad will happen to you."
He hoped the young agent couldn't hear the strain in his voice, the flattening as the Chief Inspector fought to keep his voice authoritative, certain.
"I believe you."
They reached the landing. Inspector Beauvoir stopped, staring at his Chief. Gamache looked at his watch.
In his headphones the agent was telling him about the sunshine and how good it felt on his face.
The rest of the team made the landing, tactical vests in place, automatic weapons drawn, eyes sharp. Trained on the Chief. Beside him Inspector Beauvoir was also waiting for a decision. Which way? They were close. Within feet of their quarry.
Gamache stared down one dark, dingy corridor in the abandoned factory then down the other.
They looked identical. Light scraped through the broken, grubby windows lining the halls and with it came the December day.
He pointed decisively to the left and they ran, silently, toward the door at the end. As he ran Gamache gripped his rifle and spoke calmly into the headset.
"There's no need to worry."
"There's forty seconds left, sir." Each word was exhaled as though the man on the other end was having difficulty breathing.
"Just listen to me," said Gamache, thrusting his hand toward a door. The team surged ahead.
"I won't let anything happen to you," said Gamache, his voice convincing, commanding, daring the young agent to contradict. "You'll be having dinner with your family tonight."
The tactical team surrounded the closed door with its frosted, filthy window. Darkened.
Gamache paused, staring at it, his hand hanging in the air ready to give the signal to break it down. To rescue his agent.
Beside him Beauvoir strained, waiting to be loosed.
Too late, Chief Inspector Gamache realized he'd made a mistake.
"Give it time, Armand."
"Avec le temps?" Gamache returned the older man's smile and made a fist of his right hand. To stop the trembling. A tremble so slight he was certain the waitress in the Quebec City café hadn't noticed. The two students across the way tapping on their laptops wouldn't notice. No one would notice.
Except someone very close to him.
He looked at Émile Comeau, crumbling a flaky croissant with sure hands. He was nearing eighty now, Gamache's mentor and former chief. His hair was white and groomed, his eyes through his glasses a sharp blue. He was slender and energetic, even now. Though with each visit Armand Gamache noticed a slight softening about the face, a slight slowing of the movements.
Avec le temps.
Widowed five years, Émile Comeau knew the power, and length, of time.
Gamache's own wife, Reine-Marie, had left at dawn that morning after spending a week with them at Émile's stone home within the old walled city of Québec. They'd had quiet dinners together in front of the fire, they'd walked the narrow snow-covered streets. Talked. Were silent. Read the papers, discussed events. The three of them. Four, if you counted their German shepherd, Henri.
And most days Gamache had gone off on his own to a local library, to read.
Émile and Reine-Marie had given him that, recognizing that right now he needed society but he also needed solitude.
And then it was time for her to leave. After saying good-bye to Émile she turned to her husband. Tall, solid, a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity, he looked more like a distinguished professor in his mid-fifties than the head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada. The Sûreté du Québec. He walked her to her car, scraping the morning ice from the windshield.
"You don't have to go, you know," he said, smiling down at her as they stood in the brittle, new day. Henri sat in a snow bank nearby and watched.
"I know. But you and Émile need time together. I could see how you were looking at each other."
"The longing?" laughed the Chief Inspector. "I'd hoped we'd been more discreet."
"A wife always knows." She smiled, looking into his deep brown eyes. He wore a hat, but still she could see his graying hair, and the slight curl where it came out from under the fabric. And his beard. She'd slowly become used to the beard. For years he'd had a moustache, but just lately, since it happened, he'd grown the trim beard.
She paused. Should she say it? It was never far from her mind now, from her mouth. The words she knew were useless, if any words could be described as that. Certainly she knew they could not make the thing happen. If they could she would surround him with them, encase him with her words.
"Come home when you can," she said instead, her voice light.
He kissed her. "I will. In a few days, a week at the most. Call me when you get there."
"D'accord." She got into the car.
"Je t'aime," he said, putting his gloved hand into the window to touch her shoulder.
Watch out, her mind screamed. Be safe. Come home with me. Be careful, be careful, be careful.
She put her own gloved hand over his. "Je t'aime."
And then she was gone, back to Montreal, glancing in the rear-view mirror to see him standing on the deserted early morning street, Henri naturally at his side. Both watching her, until she disappeared.
The Chief Inspector continued to stare even after she'd turned the corner. Then he picked up a shovel and slowly cleared the night's fluffy snowfall from the front steps. Resting for a moment, his arms crossed over the handle of the shovel, he marveled at the beauty as the first light hit the new snow. It looked more pale blue than white, and here and there it sparkled like tiny prisms where the flakes had drifted and collected, then caught, remade, and returned the light. Like something alive and giddy.
Life in the old walled city was like that. Both gentle and dynamic, ancient and vibrant.
Picking up a handful of snow, the Chief Inspector mashed it into a ball in his fist. Henri immediately stood, his tail going so hard his entire rear swayed. His eyes burning into the ball.
Gamache tossed it into the air and the dog leapt, his mouth closing over the snowball, and chomping down. Landing on all fours Henri was once again surprised that the thing that had been so solid had suddenly disappeared.
Gone, so quickly.
But next time would be different.
Gamache chuckled. He might be right.
Just then Émile stepped out from his doorway, bundled in an immense winter coat against the biting February cold.
"Ready?" The elderly man clamped a tuque onto his head, pulling it down so that it covered his ears and forehead, and put on thick mitts, like boxing gloves.
"For what? A siege?"
"For breakfast, mon vieux. Come along, before someone gets the last croissant."
He knew how to motivate his former subordinate. Hardly pausing for Gamache to replace the shovel, Émile headed off up the snowy street. Around them the other residents of Quebec City were waking up. Coming out into the tender morning light to shovel, to scrape the snow from their cars, to walk to the boulangerie for their morning baguette and café.
The two men and Henri set out along rue St-Jean, past the restaurants and tourist shops, to a tiny side street called rue Couillard, and there they found Chez Temporel.
They'd been coming to this café for fifteen years, ever since Superintendent Émile Comeau had retired to old Quebec City, and Gamache had come to visit, to spend time with his mentor, and to help with the little chores that piled up. Shoveling, stacking wood for the fireplace, sealing windows against drafts. But this visit was different. Like no other in all the winters Chief Inspector Gamache had been coming to Quebec City.
This time it was Gamache who needed help.
"So," Émile leaned back, cupping his bowl of café au lait in slender hands. "How's the research going?"
"I can't yet find any references to Captain Cook actually meeting Bougainville before the Battle of Québec, but it was 250 years ago. Records are scattered and weren't well kept. But I know they're in there," said Gamache. "It's an amazing library, Émile. The volumes go back centuries."
Comeau watched his companion talk about sifting through arcane books in a local library and the tidbits he was unearthing about a battle long ago fought, and lost. At least, from his point of view lost. Was there a spark in those beloved eyes at last? Those eyes he'd stared into so often at the scenes of dreadful crimes as they'd hunted murderers. As they'd raced through woods and villages and fields, through clues and evidence and suspicions. Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, Émile remembered the quote as he remembered those days. Yes, he thought, that described it. Chasmed fears. Both their own, and the murderers. Across tables across the province he and Gamache had sat. Just like this.
But now it was time to rest from murder. No more killing, no more deaths. Armand had seen too much of that lately. No, better to bury himself in history, in lives long past. An intellectual pursuit, nothing more.
Beside them Henri stirred and Gamache instinctively lowered his hand to stroke the shepherd's head and reassure him. And once again Émile noted the slight tremble. Barely there now. Stronger at times. Sometimes it disappeared completely. It was a tell- tale tremble, and Émile knew the terrible tale it had to tell.
He wished he could take that hand and hold it steady and tell him it would be all right. Because it would, he knew.
Watching Armand Gamache he noticed again the jagged scar on his left temple and the trim beard he'd grown. So that people would stop staring. So that people would not recognize the most recognizable police officer in Québec.
But, of course, it didn't matter. It wasn't them Armand Gamache was hiding from.
The waitress at Chez Temporel arrived with more coffee.
"Merci, Danielle," the two men said at once and she left, smiling at the two men who looked so different but seemed so similar.
They drank their coffees and ate pain au chocolat and croissants aux amandes and talked about the Carnaval de Québec, starting that night. Occasionally they'd lapse into silence, watching the men and women hurrying along the icy cold street outside to their jobs. Someone had scratched a three-leaf clover into a slight indent in the center of their wooden table. Émile rubbed it with his finger.
And wondered when Armand would want to talk about what happened.
It was ten thirty and the monthly board meeting of the Literary and Historical Society was about to start. For many years the meetings had been held in the evening, when the library was closed, but then it was noticed that fewer and fewer members were showing up.
So the Chairman, Porter Wilson, had changed the time. At least, he thought he'd changed the time. At least, it had been reported in the board minutes that it had been his motion, though he privately seemed to remember arguing against it.
And yet, here they were meeting in the morning, and had been for some years. Still, the other members had adjusted, as had Porter. He had to, since it had apparently been his idea.
The fact the board had adjusted at all was a miracle. The last time they'd been asked to change anything it had been the worn leather on the Lit and His chairs, and that had been sixty-three years ago. Members still remembered fathers and mothers, grandparents, ranged on either side of the upholstered Mason-Dixon Line. Remembered vitriolic comments made behind closed doors, behind backs, but before children. Who didn't forget, sixty-three years later, that devious alteration from old black leather to new black leather.
Pulling out his chair at the head of the table Porter noticed it was looking worn. He sat quickly so that no one, least of all himself, could see it.
Small stacks of paper were neatly arranged in front of his and every other place, marching down the wooden table. Elizabeth MacWhirter's doing. He examined Elizabeth. Plain, tall and slim. At least, she had been that when the world was young. Now she just looked freeze-dried. Like those ancient cadavers pulled from glaciers. Still obviously human, but withered and gray. Her dress was blue and practical and a very good cut and material, he suspected. After all, she was one of those MacWhirters. A venerable and moneyed family. One not given to displays of wealth, or brains. Her brother had sold the shipping empire about a decade too late. But there was still money there. She was a little dull, he thought, but responsible. Not a leader, not a visionary. Not the sort to hold a community in peril together. Like him. And his father before him. And his grandfather.
For the tiny English community within the walls of old Quebec City had been in peril for many generations. It was a kind of perpetual peril that sometimes got better and sometimes got worse, but never disappeared completely. Just like the English.
Porter Wilson had never fought a war, being just that much too young, and then too old. Not, anyway, an official war. But he and the other members of his board knew themselves to be in a battle nevertheless. And one, he secretly suspected, they were losing.
At the door Elizabeth MacWhirter greeted the other board members as they arrived and looked over at Porter Wilson already seated at the head of the table, reading over his notes.
He'd accomplished many things in his life, Elizabeth knew. The choir he'd organized, the amateur theater, the wing for the nursing home. All built by force of will and personality. And all less than they might have been had he sought and accepted advice.
The very force of his personality both created and crippled. How much more could he have accomplished had he been kinder? But then, dynamism and kindness often didn't go together, though when they did they were unstoppable.
Porter was stoppable. Indeed, he stopped himself. And now the only board that could stand him was the Lit and His. Elizabeth had known Porter for seventy years, since she'd seen him eating lunch alone, every day, at school and gone to keep him company. Porter decided she was sucking up to one of the great Wilson clan, and treated her with disdain.
Still, she kept him company. Not because she liked him but because she knew even then something it would take Porter Wilson decades to realize. The English of Quebec City were no longer the juggernauts, no longer the steamships, no longer the gracious passenger liners of the society and economy.
They were a life raft. Adrift. And you don't make war on others in the raft.
Elizabeth MacWhirter had figured that out. And when Porter rocked the boat, she righted it.
She looked at Porter Wilson and saw a small, energetic, toupéed man. His hair, where not imported, was dyed a shade of black the chairs would envy. His eyes were brown and darted about nervously.
Mr. Blake arrived first. The oldest board member, he practically lived at the Lit and His. He took off his coat, revealing his uniform of gray flannel suit, laundered white shirt, blue silk tie. He was always perfectly turned out. A gentleman, who managed to make Elizabeth feel young and beautiful. She'd had a crush on him when she'd been an awkward teen and he in his dashing twenties.
He'd been attractive then and sixty years later he was still attractive, though his hair was thin and white and his once fine body had rounded and softened. But his eyes were smart and lively, and his heart was large and strong.
"Elizabeth," Mr. Blake smiled and took her hand, holding it for a moment. Never too long, never too familiar. Just enough, so that she knew she'd been held.
He took his seat. A seat, Elizabeth thought, that should be replaced. But then, honestly, so should Mr. Blake. So should they all.
What would happen when they died out and all that was left of the board of the Literary and Historical Society were worn, empty chairs?
"Right, we need to make this fast. We have a practice in an hour."
Tom Hancock arrived, followed by Ken Haslam. The two were never far apart these days, being unlikely team members in the ridiculous upcoming race.
Tom was Elizabeth's triumph. Her hope. And not simply because he was the minister of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church next door.
Excerpted from Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. Copyright © 2010 Three Pines Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
1. What are the three story lines, and how do they feed into each other? What are the connections?
2. What do you think of the structure of the story, with the shifting time frames and points of view? How did the gradual unfolding of what really happened to Agent Morin and Chief Inspector Gamache affect your view of those events?
3. How do you feel about the resolution of the crime in Three Pines?
4. Why does the Battle of the Plains of Abraham have such an impact on Gamache?
5. Both Gamache and Agent Morin greatly valued their relationships with their mentors, Emile Comeau and Gamache himself. Do you think they were right to do so?
6. Does the relationship between the French and the English in Québec have any parallels in your community? How do you feel about such relationships--both in the book and in your own experience?
7. René Dallaire calls Québec "a rowboat society....We move forward, but we're always looking back." Does your community have a strong sense of the past? How dangerous is it to remember history, and how dangerous is it not to?
8. Throughout the book, Gamache is haunted by his own mistakes. How do you view those mistakes, and the way he deals with the aftermath?
9. Gamache is also haunted by the line from an old song, avec le temps: "with the passage of time." What do you think about the healing powers of time?
10. If you have read some or all of Louise Penny's earlier books, how do you see both the books and the characters evolving?