Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

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.  ( synopis from

Publication date 8/28/12  Hardcover, Minotaur, 373 pages
If I could rate this book 10 stars I would. When I finished the last page, all I could think was that I can’t wait for another year to see what happens with the story.  When I first started reading the book and realized that it all takes place in a monastery with no Three Pines interaction, I wondered how the emotional pull in all of Ms. Penny’s books, would happen in this book.  No worries on that score!
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second in command Jean-Guy Beauvior have been sent to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups to investigate the murder of one of the monks.  The monastery is a closed one and the monks follow the vow of silence.  Hundreds of years before the monks fled France and the Inquisition and had supposedly disappeared as an order.  Two years prior to the murder, the monks had released a recording of them singing Gregorian chants and “blown their cover”.  No-one is allowed into the monastery and the resultant fame from the recording has caused dissention among the monks.  Gamache and Beauvior have to work through the stories of the men living in a closed environment and find the truth about the murder.  The isolation of the location and the certainty that the murderer is one of the monks adds to the eeriness of the situation.
The recurring theme of the book seems to me to be that the men who have come to live there regard it as their own slice of Eden.  They live for love of their God and the music.  They lead simple but fulfilled lives and the music recording meant to raise money for repairs and to maintain their way of life has actually introduced the serpent in the garden.  Gamache and Beauvior find a group living in harmony with a common bond but they  also find the cracks and need to find out what was the issue that led one of the monks to kill.  There is also an overlapping theme about the nature of the chants and the history of written music as it relates to Gregorian chants that is quite interesting.
Gamache and Beauvior have put the trauma of two years before behind them and are seemingly in a good place. Beauvior has become free of his addiction to pain killers and is secretly dating Gamache’s daughter Annie.  He is happy with his life. Gamache still carries the physical and emotional scars from that time as well  but he has made a sort of peace with it.  The two men are forced to re-evaluate their feelings when their own personal serpent arrives at the monastery and begins to spread his poison.  The ending of the book is heart wrenching and will leave the reader hungry for the next installment in the series.  Ms. Penny does a wonderful job of putting the reader into the minds of the characters so that their hurts become our hurts and we really care about what happens next. 

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