Monday, May 13, 2013

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: A review


The monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups is hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec. It is home to two dozen cloistered monks who live lives of contemplation and prayer, locked away from the world. They tend their gardens and their chickens and make chocolate-covered blueberries for sale or exchange with other monasteries and they sing.

They sing plainchant, Gregorian chants. This music over the centuries has become known as the "beautiful mystery" because of its profound and almost magical effect on both singer and listener.

Even though the community of Saint Gilbert have taken a vow of silence, they raise their voices in these chants and a recording of them singing has been sent out into the world where it became a sensation. People love the music. Unfortunately, within the community the recording causes sensation also. And dissension.

The community divides along the lines of those who want to make more recordings to raise money to support the repairs that need to be made to the abbey and the traditionalists who want nothing further to do with the outside world, who want to keep their music just for themselves as their offering to their God. And now this dissension has ended in murder.

Their renowned choir director, an expert on Gregorian chants, has been murdered, his head bashed in, and the gates of Saint Gregory have had to be opened at last as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec arrive to investigate and capture the murderer. There are twenty-three suspects, the other monks at the abbey. 

The relationship between Gamache and Jean-Guy has changed subtly since the last book in the series,  A Trick of the Light, which I read just last week. Jean-Guy is separated from his wife and Gamache's daughter Annie is separated from her husband. The two have acknowledged their feelings for one another and are engaged in an affair which they believe they have kept secret from everyone including Annie's parents. Jean-Guy is off the pills that had him in an addictive grip in the last book and he is finally happy. Consequently, his relationship with his chief seems much more relaxed.

Both Gamache and Jean-Guy continue to heal from their wounds suffered in a shootout a couple of books back, but Gamache has worked hard at healing and is much further along than Beauvoir. Jean-Guy's recovery is still tentative and when the hated Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté shows up at the monastery to "help" with the investigation, Gamache soon comes to suspect that his ulterior purposes may include messing with Beauvoir's mind. Little does he suspect just how right he is or that before he can solve the ugly mystery of the monk's murder, he will have to again face the demons of that awful experience at the warehouse.

This time the only members of the Sûreté homicide team involved in the investigation are Gamache and Beauvoir. Louise Penny seems to want to concentrate on their relationship and develop it further. The truth is that the two love each other as father and son, even though Beauvoir thinks he has hidden his relationship with his mentor's daughter. But those feelings leave him open to be manipulated by an evil man who is willing to take advantage of them. Chief Superintendent Francoeur is just such an evil man, a murderer of souls. 

And so Gamache must not only find a murderer of monks, he must find a way to save the young man whom he and his family love.

As usual, Penny carries us along in the flow of her story, dropping clues along the way, and, as usual, she makes us care very much about her characters. I'm already looking forward to the next book to see what will happen in this continuing story.

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