A remote monastery, murder, and music combine for The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
The Beautiful Mystery (#8 Gamache) by Louise Penny
Awards: Agatha, Anthony and Audie awards
Published 2012, 390 pages
I've read books from this series in a very haphazard way - as I've come across them, rather than in order. This book can be read as a stand alone because it's not set in the town of Three Pines where most of the action usually takes place and only has a few of the main characters. There were ongoing references to an earlier disastrous police incident but I was able to gather enough info about it to understand the ramifications.
I listened to this on audio and it was an enjoyable listen. Since I don't speak French (or Latin), it was interesting to hear how names and phrases are supposed to be pronounced instead of the made-up way I say them in my head.
The broad strokes plot of this mystery is that a monk is murdered in a remote monastery and Inspector Gamache and his assistant Inspector Beauvoir travel to the monastery to investigate. The back story of the monastery is a fascinating piece of the story. The order of monks fled Europe during the Inquisition and hid themselves away in this quiet corner of Canada. They eventually become famous for their beautiful voices and singing of Gregorian chants. Sadly, this also leads to their downfall......
There were some aspects I really enjoyed about the book:
I liked the 'locked room' aspect of the mystery - working with a limited pool of suspects
even though we met a lot of monks, they were each given distinct personalities though not much in the way of back stories
I liked the complexity of the characters Gamache & his friend inspector Beauvoir
I liked the focus on music and the feelings the chants evoked - thought that was VERY well done; there's some excellent passages about why chants feel more powerful than other church music
The "beautiful mystery" is what the Church calls the alpha state that chants can cause - that meditative, calm, peaceful state. It helps the monks, and people, be more their best selves. This is illustrated several times throughout the story as Gamache, in particular, finds himself enchanted by the music.
However, there were a few head-scratching moments. I really liked the affection between Gamache and Beauvoir, but Beauvoir's actions in reaction to the Chief Inspector's insinuations (sharing very obliquely so I don't spoil anything) were surprising and felt unrealistic. The sudden appearance of the Chief Inspector to this remote monastery accomplished....what exactly? He was disruptive and manipulative and not remotely productive, and it seems very unlikely that the head of the department could/would do that. And, the introduction of the Dominican. That provided a too-easy solution as a way to wrap everything up - not buying it.
So, though wonderfully written, and thoroughly engaging, I feel like it's probably not the best of the series - I think I need to go back and read the series from the beginning. This book won yet another Agatha Award for Penny who has won 7 for her Gamache series which has a total of 15 books. (Agatha's are given for "cozy mysteries" where there is no explicit violence or sex). You can find a comprehensive list of Agatha Award winning mystery novels at the top of the page on the Award Winners menu tab.