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BOOK REVIEW: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Friday, November 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

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.


My Thoughts:


I’ve been a fan of Louise Penny since her first book, Still Life, was published in 2006. When I met her at the Perth Writers Festival earlier this year, I was astonished to see how many books she had published and how many I had missed. I thought I’d better hurry and catch up with what’s been happening in the world of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Bury the Dead is the sixth book in the series, and is set in Québec City, a lovely 16th century fortified town that is one of the oldest European colonies in North America. I really love the Canadian setting of Louise Penny’s books. They are so fresh and vivid, and I learn something new every time about Canadian history and life. Most of her books till now have been set in the fictional village of Three Pines, which – I joked to a friend recently – has had almost as many murders as Midsomer. Despite its extraordinarily high rate of murders, Three Pines is idyllic and makes me want to move there.

The change of setting to Old Québec was, nonetheless, welcome. I knew nothing about its long and bloody history, and found the history revealed in this novel fascinating. It is Winter Carnival, and the cobbled streets and slate roofs are thick with snow. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has not come to Québec City to join in the revelries, but to recover from an earlier investigation which had gone terribly wrong. The aftermath of that investigation haunts Gamache, but the details are only revealed slowly, through memory and flashback, and so the novel is really about two separate violent events, that reflect each other in surprising ways.

The murder in Québec City takes place in the Literary and Historical Society, an old stone library, where a historian’s body has been discovered buried in a shallow grave in the cellar. He had spent his career searching for the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, which has been hidden for more than 400 years.

Meanwhile, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir goes back to Three Pines to reinvestigate the last murder which happened there, as Gamache has a terrible feeling that he had got it wrong.

So, stories within stories, deaths in the now and in the past, and a fallible detective who is nonetheless dogged and intelligent … Louise Penny writes top-notch crime fiction, and I’m really glad I’ve decided to read the whole series.

You might be interested in my review of one of Louise Penny's other books, The Brutal Telling.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Saturday, August 25, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Chaos is coming, old son.

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness.

No one admits to knowing the murdered man, but as secrets are revealed, chaos begins to close in on the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. How did he make such a spectacular success of his business? What past did he leave behind and why has he buried himself in this tiny village? And why does every lead in the investigation find its way back to him?

As Olivier grows more frantic, a trail of clues and treasures— from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it—lead the Chief Inspector deep into the woods and across the continent in search of the truth, and finally back to Three Pines as the little village braces for the truth and the final, brutal telling.


My Thoughts:


I’ve really enjoyed all of Louise Penny’s earlier books in the Inspector Gamache crime series, but have had this one sitting on my shelf for ages, waiting for me to read. Having met Louise Penny at the Perth Writers Festival this year (she is lovely!), I decided to catch up on the series.

Her books have mostly centred on the fictional town of Three Pines in the province of Quebec in Canada, with an array of loveable and eccentric locals who appear again and again. They include a gay couple who run the local bistro, a warm-hearted second-hand bookseller, a couple of married artists, and a foul-mouthed old woman who is an award-winning poet and has a pet duck called Rosa. Describing the series in this way, the books sound like cosy murder mysteries, and there is certainly plenty of warmth and humour. However, the depth of characterisation, the lyrical writing, and the darkness of the human psyche revealed both in the murders and the inner lives of the characters lift this series out of the ordinary.

The Brutal Telling centres on the murder of an old hermit who has lived hidden away in the forest outside Three Pines for decades with no-one – or nearly no-one - aware of his existence.

To Inspector Gamache’s surprise, he discovers the old man’s wooden hut is filled with antique treasures (such as a priceless first edition copy of Jane Eyre published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, something I myself would very much like to own.) His quest to find the murderer also leads him to follow in the footsteps of Emily Carr, the first Canadian artist to embrace Fauvism and Post-Impressionism. I have been interested in Emily Carr since reading The Forest Lover, a novel by Susan Vreeland that is inspired by her life, and so was really intrigued by this section of The Brutal Telling. This combination of warmth, intelligence and psychological depth combine to make Louise Penny’s books a cut above most contemporary crime novels and so I urge you to read one if you’ve never tried her before. But start at the beginning, with Still Life, as this series has a strong character arc.

You might also be interested in my review of The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK LIST: Books read in January 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

I've been meaning to keep a better track of all the books I read so here is, a little late, a list of all the books I read in January 

1. The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland

An utterly compelling historical novel which moves between Portugal and Iceland as a young woman searches for two rare white falcons in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Her journey is fraught with danger, betrayal, murder and horror, with the strangest set of seers ever to appear in fiction. Highly recommended.

2. Jewels of Paradise – Donna Leon
Donna Leon is best known for her murder mysteries set in Venice, which I really enjoy. This one was a disappointment - it was rather slow and the characters were unappealing. Stick to her Guido Brunetti series instead. 


3. Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schiltz

I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant. 

4. Madonna of the Almonds – Marina Fiorato

I've been slowly reading my way through Marnia Fiorato's books since enjoying her debut The Glassblower of Murano a few years ago. This one is set in Renaissance Italy, and tells the story of the love affair between a painter and a young woman who invents a liquor made from almonds in order to save her beloved house. I really enjoyed this and will be interviewing the author later this month. 

5. The Mystery of Rilloby Fair  - Enid Blyton

An old childhood favourite.

6. Shatter – Michael Robotham

Warning: this book must be read with all the lights on and a man or a large dog in the house. I have not been so freaked out by a book in a long time. Seriously scary, this book is possibly the most brilliant psychological thriller I have ever read. I still shudder from time to time thinking about it ... wondering what I'd do if I was faced with such a situation ... and determined to keep my children closer than ever ... Chilling, powerful and utterly superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.   


7. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake – Sarah McLean

I really enjoyed this Regency romance novel - it was funny, sexy, and had a really appealing hero and heroine. Great fun.  

8. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dea
I've had a vague plan to read all the Newbery Medal winners, and slowly I'm getting through them. This one is very restrained, almost cold, yet its a compelling story of a young Indian girl left alone on an island and her struggle to survive. It won the Newbery in 1961, and so its older than I am. One of those short, yet very strong books that leave a lingering impression.  

9. Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
This is the most beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica - I'd really recommend it to anyone who loves books about forgotten women in history (in fact, I'd recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction.) Here's my review of 'Chasing the Light' and here's my interview with Jesse Blackadder

10. Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny
I really enjoy Louise Penny's contemporary murder mysteries set in Quebec - she's very good on character and dialogue, and her mysteries are always clever and puzzling, the way mysteries should be. 



11. The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh
Loved this book! Loved it! Its the story of French resistance fighters in the Second World War, and their loves and fears and betrayals. I believe there's a sequel coming out - I can't wait. 




12. White Truffles in Winter – N.M. Kelby
This is a slow moving but beautifully written account of the famous French chef Escoffier and his life and loves. It desperately made me want to eat the amazing food described in the  book - larks cooked with truffles and such things and brought to life that period of history for me most vividly. 

13. Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, which was like an early policeman in Regency times. This was a great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder. I'm looking forward to reading the next one. 

14. The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier
I love Tracy Chevalier so much. She's what I'd like to be. Each book is very different from what has come before, each is beautifully written - walking that fine line between the high style of the literary novel and the accessiblity of the popular - and she is interested in the subjects that interest me. I've always been intrigued by the Quakers and I've always wanted to know more about the Underground Railway that helped runaway slaves escape. I've even thought I might one day write a book about it. Once again, Tracy has beaten me to it - this book brings to life both the inner world of a Quaker woman and her struggle with the narrow strictures of a Quaker life, and the drama of the Underground Railway, and the bounty hunters that seek to drag back the runway slaves. 'The Last Runaway' is rather a quiet book, yet its utterly readable and compelling. I really loved it - I just wish Tracy wrote faster!



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