Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Book #8)
by Louise Penny
Release Date: August 28th, 2012
2012 Minotaur Books
Hardcover Edition; 373 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-312-65546-4
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Library

4 Stars

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.” But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of  prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

My Thoughts
The Beautiful Mystery is the eighth book in the Armand Gamache series and while it is somewhat different than some of the other books in this series, I really enjoyed it because of this difference; the change of pace and intensity was welcome and I was glad to learn a bit of history regarding the Gregorian chants that I didn't know before.

For me, a good mystery is not necessarily about the death of the victim and the search for the who-dun-it.  I like to really delve into the psychological aspects of what motivates the murderer as well as the characters that are also involved in the events in which they are suddenly thrust.  I find it fascinating to see how everyone and everything fits into the puzzles and why things are done the way they are, and if the unraveling is done slowly, then the wait is that much more agonizing and great for me.  I enjoyed delving into the lives of these monks, men who seem on the surface to seem to have such a tranquil and peaceful life, with all of these swirling emotions lying just below the surface.  It reminds of a calm lake where you can't see the bubbling spring lying at the bottom, but still muddies the waters and creates havoc for everything that enters its path.  And it was interesting to see how those layers of calm were stripped away as Gamache began asking questions that were more and more personal and reflective and really had the monks betraying little emotions here and there, emotions that led to more and more outbursts.  And I read, just waiting for the dam to burst, soaking it all in.  

I enjoyed the setting in this novel, a bit of a departure for Ms. Penny, but it was the monastery and its secrets which drew me in the first place and at the first hint of treasure, I was definitely intrigued, wondering what it could possibly be, knowing that in a Louise Penny novel it would not be the dragon treasure or mason treasure that would show up in other novels, but something more in your face, and I was not disappointed.  It made complete sense considering the subject of this novel, which was the "plainchants", dominated the lives and emotions of these men and were the crux of everything they did.  It was nice to get a bit of a history lesson about the Gregorian chants as this is an area that I have not had time with regards to history, although I have always been meaning to, and it was nice to learn more about them.  I actually went searching on the Internet to listen to some to get me in the mood for this novel.

While I did find the lives of the monks quite interesting, and as usual, the ongoing storyline with Gamache and his superiors intruded even in his forlorn monastery with the arrival of Francoeur (the name reminds of my kindergarten teacher of whom I was deathly afraid), and the ongoing storyline with Beauvoir and his dealings with his oxycontin addiction (which by the way led to my frustration with the ending of this novel), the actual mystery to this story was rather simple and somewhat predictable.  It was the lives of the monks and the other storylines that really carried the novel for me and if they hadn't intruded, I think the novel would have been rather mundane and boring.  What I like about the intrusions is that the problems with Gamache and Francoeur and with Gamache and Beauvoir are not being neatly wrapped up in a box with a bow, but are continuing and causing him a lot of anguish and concern, both for his job and his personal life, which is really mimics real life.  While I was not happy with the ending as I have to wait for book nine in order to find out what happens between Gamache and Beauvoir as their separation was not pleasant, oxycontin addictions are difficult to control and beat, so I'm glad Ms. Penny is not making this easy but is showing what it is really like.  Kudos to her!!! 

The Beautiful Mystery was a rather good addition to the continuing Armand Gamache series, but not everyone may like the continuing storyline between Gamache and his superiors or between Gamache and Beauvoir as they may find it somewhat repetitive.  I like them as they seem to reflect real life much more and show that life is not neatly wrapped up and compartmentalized so easily, and nor do problems just go away.  But that's life and we have to deal with issues over and over again.  I am looking forward to the ninth book in this series to see how Armand will cope with his life spiraling out of control.



  1. Splendid review!

    I don't think I've heard of the series before...

  2. Hi Curlingupby,

    The review you posted for The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny read to me like you demonstrated impartiality and insight. You stated your thought the way you should. I appreciate that you show both fairness and balance in your reviews. I will be following your other reviews with interest.