Monday, October 29, 2012

What We're Reading: The Beautiful Mystery

I have been waiting with great anticipation for Louise Penny's next Chief Inspector Gamache novel, and finally made my way through the Holds list to take it home this weekend. The Beautiful Mystery is another masterpiece of subtlety and character development, with an unusual setting: a Catholic monastery. And not just any monastery--it's the home of the Gilbertines, an order of monks thought to have died out hundreds of years ago when they disappeared from the landscape of Rome, only to turn up centuries later in present-day Quebec. This order of 24 monks had preserved its anonymity by living a silent, cloistered, self-reliant life in the remote wilderness of the New World, but had been revealed a few years past when the brothers of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups decided to release an anonymous recording of their music--Gregorian chants so beautiful and so different from all other such recordings that the Church, the media, and the general public had relentlessly sought them out. This did none of them any good, however, because les frères were determined to maintain their solitude, and once their location was discovered, everyone who knocked at their gate was turned away.
Until today.
Chief Inspector Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Captain Charbonneau were about to be let in. Their ticket was a dead man.
Penny always comes up with an interesting premise for her murder mysteries, and this one is no exception. In a "normal" murder, there is usually a variety of suspects, starting with the nearest and dearest--a husband, a wife, a child, a business associate--but the murderer could equally well be a total stranger, leaving for consideration a wide open field of potential "perps." But when you have a cloistered order of 24 monks and one of them dies violently, there is a finite number of culprits to consider--23, to be exact. This should make things simple, but when you realize that the monks are people disciplined to the rule of silence, where every twitch of the lips and lowering of the eyelids speaks volumes, the task of a police inspector whose modus operandi is to use silence as a tool is vastly more challenging.

A happy Louise Penny with the Advanced Reader Copy.

This mystery is also a church history lesson, a musicologist's treatise, and a further insight into the psyches of Inspector Armand Gamache, his beloved but troubled subordinate, Beauvoir, and his arch-nemesis, Superintendent of the Sûreté Sylvain Francoeur. Definitely up to Louise Penny's usual high standards. The only thing bothering me about the book is what was left hanging between her characters at the end--how will I bear to wait another year for the next book to find out what happened?!

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