Monday, September 03, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery, Louise Penny’s eighth “Chief Inspector Gamache” novel, is a throwback of sorts.  A monk has been murdered in an intentionally isolated monastery located in the remote forests surrounding Quebec.  No outsiders have ever been allowed inside the monastery, but now authorities have to be called in so that the murderer can be identified and charged with his crime.  But, although Penny uses the classic mystery set-up of a closed environment with a clearly defined set of suspects – one of whom has to have committed the murder – she also includes enough side-plots, flashbacks, and deeply developed characters to make it all seem fresh.

Because of Gilbert’s support for Thomas Beckett, the Gilbertines were forced to flee England for Canada shortly after Beckett’s politically inspired murder in the cathedral at Canterbury.  The two dozen Gilbertine monks now living in Quebec’s Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups monastery have so successfully hidden themselves, that, until very recently, the world believed they had ceased to exist centuries earlier.  There they live a self-sustaining life of near silence while spending much of each day striving to sing the most perfect versions of the ancient Gregorian chants around which they anchor their lives. 

However, it is not all peace and tranquility within the walls of the monastery.  The solitude of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups has been shattered by the discovery of the choir director’s body.  The dead man has had his head bashed in, and now it is up to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir to identify his murderer. 

Louise Penny
As fascinating as all of this is, fans of the series will expect to learn more about how Gamache and Beauvoir are coping with the aftermath of the botched police mission that left Beauvoir near death and both men emotionally scarred by what they witnessed.  Penny obliges by giving the failed hostage rescue attempt a central role in The Beautiful Mystery.  As the book opens, Gamache still believes he failed his men by allowing them to walk into an ambush, and Beauvoir struggles to cope with an addiction to painkillers that could cost him his job.  That Beauvoir is also secretly dating Annie, Gamache’s daughter, adds an interesting plot twist that turns the relationship of the men in a new direction. 

Also making an appearance in this one is Gamache’s old nemesis, Superintendent Inspector Fancouer, a man whom Gamache has good reason to both despise and to fear.  When Fancouer joins the two detectives at the monastery, and Gamache learns why he is really there, he comes perilously close to committing a murder of his own.

A combination of well developed characters, intriguing atmosphere, revealing side plots, and many of the elements of a classic whodunit, The Beautiful Mystery is certain to please existing Louise Penny fans. At the same time, it will introduce her to a multitude of new readers who will, I’m sure, want to go back and read the earlier Inspector Gamache books.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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