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THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY by Louise Penny: Book Review

One might imagine that a Catholic monastery, hidden for hundreds of years in the remote Quebec wilderness, would be the last place to look for a murder.  But at Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes (among the wolves), that is exactly what you would find.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete de Quebec are called to the monastery following the death of its proctor, Frere Mathieu.  The proctor was struck down in the abbot’s private garden and was found there by a fellow monk.  And although the community of Saint Gilbert has taken a vow of silence and willingly removed itself from the world, its abbot, Dom Philippe, has called the Surete to investigate this murder.

Saint Gilbert’s has recently become world famous for its recording of Gregorian chants.  Throughout its history, chapters in the Saint Gilbert’s order have practiced near-total silence except for their chanting of prayers several times a day.  A year ago a recording was made of several of these chants and released to the families and friends of the monks.

What then happened was a modern-day phenomenon–suddenly the recording was being heard all over the world and thousands of copies of the CD were sold.  What followed, of course, was an avalanche of unwanted visitors to the remote abbey–news helicopters, visitors from other religious groups, pilgrims–all wanting to meet the monks who had unwittingly given this gift to the wider world.

That avalanche set the scene for the major rift that has split the abbey–those monks, led by the abbot, who want to continue the order’s self-imposed exile and refuse to consider making another recording, and those led by the proctor, who see the recording and its attendant wealth as a gift from God that should be repeated.  The tension comes to a boil when Mathieu is murdered and the community is further divided.

Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Bouvier are dealing with their own personal problems as well as those in the abbey.  A recent police maneuver that Gamache headed went terribly wrong, resulting in the death of four policemen.  In a situation similar to the world-wide interest in the abbey’s Gregorian chants, a video of the raid and its horrific aftermath that was made solely for the Surete was released and went viral.

In that raid, Jean-Guy was badly wounded and became dependent on painkillers.  Although he has been off them for three months at the time the novel opens, it is obvious that his mental health is still fragile.  In addition, he and Annie, Gamache’s daughter, are in love and planning to announce their engagement, but Jean-Guy is fearful of Annie’s parents’ reaction, afraid that they won’t welcome him into their family.

There is a great deal of backstory in The Beautiful Mystery, both in terms of the history of the persecution of the monks of the Saint Gilbert order, going back to the Inquisition, and Gamache’s tenure in the Surete.  All the characters are well drawn, and the author’s obvious love of music, to which she refers in the acknowledgements, comes across throughout the book.  The only thing that would have made this book even better would have been the inclusion of a CD of Gregorian chants.  Lacking that, the next best option is going to YouTube: to hear chanting for yourself.

Louise Penny has written another intriguing chapter in the lives of Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Bouvier, this one with much personal pain suffered by the two men.  The story is deeper and more heartfelt than many others in the genre and not one the reader will easily forget.

You can read more about Louise Penny at her web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.

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