Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery

I just finished listening to The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny last night and maybe I should let my thoughts and feeling about the book stew for a little while before I comment on it, but I’m not going to. I truly enjoyed the book, the mystery, the characters, at least most of them, the setting, but I have the feeling that if I dwell on it I’ll start noting the negatives and I don’t actually want to.

Click on the link below for an audio clip to give you a glimpse into how the story starts.
The Beautiful Mystery

A monk has been murdered in an isolated abbey in the wilderness of Quebec, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a monastery made famous by its recording of Gregorian chants. It is the choir master who was killed and Inspector Gamache, along with his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, becomes the first outsider allowed into the monastery, necessary as a result of the tragedy. The monks seem to live in peace and harmony, singing, praying, making chocolate, but the quiet is deceitful. Beneath the surface are cracks in the community, tensions that are unresolved, a civil war begin waged.

First, things I loved:

The setting. I like that Penny took a step away from Three Pines this time around and the descriptions of the monastery itself, the light coming in the windows, the stone walls and hidden rooms made me want to visit.

The music. I have a soft spot for church music and found the descriptions of plainchant, of “the beautiful mystery,” the word of God sung in the voice of God, moving.

The characters. Gamache here is at his strength, strong, decisive, subtle. The cloistered monastic setting plays into his introspective tendencies, and how much he cares for Beauvoir is clear. The monks are also individuals, each with his own concerns, passions, beliefs. They are not treated as a homogenous group but as men, each with strengths and weaknesses, who have chosen this life and understand the sacrifices and rewards.

The treasure. I’m not going to tell what the monastery’s treasure is, but it did fit perfectly with the story.

Things I didn’t love:

Gamache’s boss, Superintendent Francoeur. He’s evil or at least seems that way in this book, which is odd considering how most of Penny’s characters are nuanced, even her killers are often not all bad. He shows up at the monastery with his own agenda, one that does not bode well for Gamache or Beauvoir, but it seems heavy-handed.

The ending. I don’t mean the way the plot and murder was wrapped up. I was okay with that even if the dead man’s last words were a bit of a stretch as was the potential meanings. I didn’t like where the book left Gamache and Beauvoir. Actually the whole last bit made me angry. These characters are people I love and I don’t like how Penny’s pulling at them. Yes, I know that characters need to face struggles and choices, to grow and change and Beauvoir does have his faults, he can be impulsive, stubborn, insecrue, but the Beauvoir we see at the end just didn’t fit for me. I don’t want to say anymore, but if you read it you’ll probably see where I’m coming from even if you don’t agree.

Overall thoughts:

This series has become a must-read for me. Even after 8 installments, I’m hooked. In The Beautiful Mystery the good definitely outweighs the bad, but I wish the focus had stayed on the mystery, not drifted off into the Francoeur subplot. I wanted him out of the monastery, out of the series. I didn’t like the qualities he brought out in either of the other men. And I’m sure that’s how Penny wanted me to feel.

I’m hoping the next one returns to Three Pines or at least features some of the fabulous folks from the village. I did miss them. I also hope Penny wraps up this infighting or at least lets it sink into the background.

The following chant is just an example of a Gregorian chant I found on YouTube. It is not one mentioned specifically in the story.

3½ out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery & Detective- Police Procedural

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Inspector Armand Gamache #8

First published August 28, 2012 by Minotaur
13 hours, 35 minutes
Read by Ralph Cosham

Book source: Library

Chief Inspector Gamache Series

  1. Still Life
  2. A Fatal Grace
  3. The Cruelest Month
  4. A Rule Against Murder
  5. The Brutal Telling
  6. Bury Your Dead
  7. A Trick of the Light
  8. The Beautiful Mystery

Novella for emerging readers feature Gamache but not part of the series

  • The Hangman

This was my fourth read for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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9 Comments

  1. Would you believe I gave the book a 5 on Goodreads. I haven’t read many of her others, so had nothing much to compare it with. I think Penny set up the readers for the next in the series, by leaving the Beauvoir situation hanging…

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