Book Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

Posted March 4, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
Genres: Detective, Mystery
Published by Minotaur Books on July 2, 2013
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


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.

Also by this author: Still Life, A Fatal Grace, A Rule Against Murder, The Cruelest Month, The Brutal Telling, A Trick of the Light, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, Still Life, Kingdom of the Blind, A Better Man, Bury Your Dead , The Beautiful Mystery , How the Light Gets In , The Long Way Home , The Nature of the Beast , A Great Reckoning , Glass Houses , All The Devils are Here

Eighth in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series and revolving around the inspector and his second-in-command.

My Take

I’ve been waiting for this installment with great trepidation. I knew it was coming, and I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to read about it. And, in some ways, I’m relieved it’s finally happened, and it’s no longer looming over me.

Jean-Guy really pissed me off in this. It’s early on that Jean-Guy voices his worries, his concerns, and it’s too late for us and Jean-Guy when we learn how Armand feels about those worries. How can he possibly believe anything that Francoeur says? It’s too bad he doesn’t go back to thinking of his grandmother than believing that jerk.

That buzzing Francoeur has the pilot do is another part of his lousy personality. He’s got to announce himself loudly and be the big man. It goes right along with his stupid, petty slights. When you compare the two men — Gamache and Francoeur — you can’t help but know who is the better man. That jerkwad makes me so angry. How can he do this? Why is he even a cop? I cannot express deeply enough or with any greater anger that he would do this. I can understand his being angry with Gamache bringing those corrupt cops to light, but to destroy another cop just to hurt Gamache? It makes me want to swing out, to scream, to…I don’t know, I can’t think of anything bad enough. He knows all the buttons to push — Francoeur stole inside information — and that there’s one who is stupid enough to fall for Francoeur’s manipulations.

If Francoeur thought Beauvoir would make such a great officer, why didn’t he pick him up? That disaster at the factory that we continue to only hear about raises up again, and I’m wondering if (how?) Francoeur set it up in [previous to] Bury Your Dead, 6, so it would backfire as it did. It sounds like something he’d do. After all, he has no respect for the rank-and-file. He wouldn’t care what happened to them if something bad could happen to Gamache. As for how Beauvoir can so misinterpret Gamache’s actions in the factory battle, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I do NOT understand. How can anyone, and especially a fellow cop, interpret Gamache’s action in that video as anything other than love and duty?

I love reading this history of the beginning of music. What inspired the first notes to be created in writing. It was a start that people fascinated by music will appreciate.

I adore how Penny describes walking into the monastery’s corridor with its dancing lights. It sounds so beautiful, and I could easily picture it in my head. The monastery’s self-sufficiency is amazing what with the geothermal, the solar panels, farming, animal husbandry, and hockey teams in the winter, lol, and it’s very appealing to me. Throw in the criterion for choosing new monks, and it’s even more practical if strict. I must confess that I use a Gregorian chant for my ringtone for the Church, and it is a very peaceful sound.

As usual, Penny keep us guessing as she unveils the hows and whys of this murder. Even when the Inquisition shows up, she keeps me wondering as I expected arrests or auto-da-fes or ???

Penny did go on and on in this one. Too long. I don’t know if she meant to isolate us and make us feel the separation from the world or if she simply got carried away. Maybe part of the reason was to explain the rules behind plain chant?

The men and the music can’t be separated. Saint-Gilbert is a living chant with each monk an individual note…they are the note.

I enjoyed the comment about the difference between violins and fiddles: the one sings while the other dances.

Penny goes on and on about the plans being different from the actual building, but I don’t recall any great revelation in the story. Other than the hidey-hole. I kept expecting some tremendous reveal, and it never came.

Why did Frère Sébastien feel the need to hide why he came to Saint-Gilbert in such a rush? He makes some interesting points about the Church and its Inquisition of people, of monks: Don’t stand out. Don’t be loyal to your abbot. Don’t be good men. Bow down to the pope no matter what. It’s a part of what I hate about the Catholic Church. An institution meant to promote Jesus’ teachings but succumbing to the greed of man.

It’s an interesting conflict: the abbot wanting to return to the past and the choirmaster wanting to go forth with their music. It’s a comment made at the end that brings an understanding of the truth to light.

The Story

You can’t get much more inside Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups when its revered choirmaster is found murdered and the police must be called.

It’s this disaster that will find men from the outside world entering the monastery for the first time.

The Characters

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the head of Homicide at the Sûreté du Québec. A policeman under siege from within. Reine-Marie is Gamache’s wife.

Jean-Guy Beauvoir is his second-in-command. He’s also living with the now-divorced Annie, the Gamaches’ daughter. Enid is his ex-wife, who listened as if he owed her. Not like Annie.

Captain Charbonneau runs the La Mauricie Sûreté du Québec station. And he realizes how few friends Gamache has amongst the upper echelons.

Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur of the Sûreté du Québec, Gamache’s boss, and one of his greatest enemies.

Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups is…
…a monastery that has been hidden away from the world for centuries in the backwoods of Québec with its monks. The Church, the world, thought the order had died out, instead, the Gilbertines had hidden away from the Inquisition. Dom Philippe is the abbot, a true man of God. Frère Luc is a new member and his voice is the harmony; he’s also the portier. Frère Simon is the abbot’s secretary and the gatekeeper with a fascination for Chanteclers; Frère Charles is their doctor; Antoine is the one who insulted the abbot and is the current soloist on the album; he’s also got some maturing to do. Other brothers include Alphonse; Felicien; Joel; Timothé; Guillaume; Alexandre is in charge of the animals and getting too old for it; Bernard, the former prior, seeks Gamache out with the truth of the division; and, Raymond is the one who handles the mechanics. Dom Clément was the monk who designed the abbey.

Brother Mathiew is, was, the prior, the choirmaster who did such a masterful performance with the choir, and the abbot’s best friend.

Brother Sébastien is a hound of the Lord, a Dominican from the Vatican in Rome who has hastened to Saint-Gilbert. And he works at the CDF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a.k.a., the Inquisition.

Etienne Legault is the boatman.

Neumes are the precursors of musical notes.

The Cover and Title

The cover makes me think of a description of the chapel in The Beautiful Mystery, only this is an outdoor chapel of a dense forest with the sunlight shining in, straining to illuminate the base of the forest.

The title is the chant, both a mystery as to its origins, what the Church calls The Beautiful Mystery, and scientists call alpha waves. It is this plain chant that brings strife into this peaceful community.

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4 responses to “Book Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

    • I used the author’s description so it’s Penny’s words, and yes, it is something more sinister. It’s the truth about man no matter his chosen path.

    • I do adore the characters. They’re each unique with their own foibles and strengths. They’re also very supportive of each other. They’re people who pop in to visit, to commiserate, to laugh and sob. When the settings are in Three Pines, you want to sell your house and move there, it’s such a cozy-sounding place.

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