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 Surete du Quebec. 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.
The Book Report: The book description says:
The brilliant new novel in the New York Times bestselling series by Louise Penny, one of the most acclaimed crime writers of our time.
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.
My Review: I've recently reviewed the thirteenth entry in a mystery series, which I have now abandoned; and another twelfth entry in a series, which I have not abandoned, despite its uneven track record in my affections.
This is the eighth Gamache mystery. Louise Penny has ripped my emotions to shreds more than once before now. She's not a writer who has any fear of allowing her creations to grow and change, like real people do, in ways that might not always suit us, the audience.
And that is the reason that her books don't simply keep selling. They rocket up the bestseller lists. They deserve to rocket up the bestseller lists because Louise Penny invests her characters with believable inner lives. I know the characters well, and like so many people I know well, they throw me curve balls and they change into people I don't like, and they screw up and they cannot help themselves because, like every breathing one of us, they are wounded and hurting and scared and doing their dead-level best to get through each day with a minimum of carnage.
And when challenges arise, well...they rise to them or they fall before them, just like real people do. Like real people, their responses bring up feelings, strong ones, in us their friends...their readers...Louise Penny's readers. Strong, strong feelings. Quite strong. Oh my yes.
A few minor points: I've heard it said that Penny's is a writing style that is choppy, or clipped; I agree with this assessment; and I for one find that a plus, because the stories themselves are so lush and so intense and would so lend themselves to a more baroque treatment that I find the clipped-ness of the prose to be refreshing and invigorating. I've also heard a few dissenting voices say somewhat dismissive things about the plots of the books, the puzzles themselves. With this critique I find myself out of sympathy. I unravel the mysteries quickly because I've read so very many over the years. I suspect some reviewers have the same experience level that I do. I would suggest to those readers that they consider the number of truly surprising resolutions they've read in the past few years that didn't involve authorial sleight-of-hand.
But something isn’t quite right. Yes, Penny’s impressive prose is there throughout. And the plot is fairly plausible, as usual. The Chief Inspector is on his toes and using all his considerable skills and Beauvoir demonstrates his overbearing investigative techniques. But, dare I say it, the plot is sluggish. I think Penny went overboard trying to create the atmosphere of the ancient monastery. And poring over architectural drawings that were hundreds of years old does not add a dynamic thrust to the book’s story line. It’s well, boring. And it went on for way, way too long. The book is almost 400 pages long and the plot didn’t thicken until the last 75 pages so that made for a lot of reading that just plain bogged down.
I don’t want to say I missed Three Pines, because I’ve enjoyed the other mysteries that weren’t set in Three Pines but what I didn’t warm up to was the fact that there was only Gamache and Beauvoir. Where was Agent LaCoste? And where oh where was Reine Marie? They usually add something to the story. A bunch of stodgy monks cannot make up for the absence of all the complex characters that Penny has become known for. Yes, I admit missed Ruth.
And one last thing…I hated the ending. First of all, since when has Penny needed a cliffhanger? People love her books and will get her next book without using such a cheap ploy. It was unnecessary and implausible.
All that said, it’s still Louise Penny and she still writes a much better than average mystery. I will continue to read her books and hope that this one was just a fluke. The next one will return to what brought her to the dance. At least, that is my hope.
Suddenly however, the prior (who is also the choirmaster) is found murdered, and the monks must admit outsiders to their world, shattering their silence, their peace and their isolation. As Gamache and Beauvoir slowly, calmly, and quietly begin the difficult process of determining which of the brothers is in fact a murderer, they must also confront their own demons, particularly the residual effects of the disastrous raid and hostage situation from previous books in the series. The soothing cadences of the chant don't always work enough magic to keep the pain of the past from surfacing.
Penny's strength is in her characters. By now, if you've read all the book in the series, you feel that you know Armand Gamache almost as well as he knows himself. But she can still add more to this deeply introspective and compassionate officer. His protégé Jean-Guy's character is still evolving and not always in the direction we might want. Penny shines in her ability to portray the depth of emotions and feelings of her characters, allowing them to expand as the story does. She is not afraid to allow them to be flawed.
While the strength is in the characters, the beauty is in the setting, with its quiet, its secrets, its history, and its mysteries. The murder mystery itself, of the classic closed room genre, is brilliant. Everyone is a suspect. There are only a few pieces of physical evidence, the setting is self-contained and virtually impregnable, and Gamache must help the brothers to accept the fact that one among them is a killer. Finally, there's the music! It is the story itself, and the characters, the setting, the plot provide the backdrop for the story of the music, truly a "Beautiful Mystery." Even if you haven't read any of the previous books in the series, this one is written with just enough back fill to make it almost a stand alone.
In a remote Québec monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, Prior Frère Mathieu is found murdered in the abbot's private garden – in his hand a scrap of sheepskin vellum, scribbled on which are a handful of musical notes. In recent years, the Gilbertine monks released a recording of Gregorian chants which captured the attention of millions worldwide. The resultant windfall allowed for much needed improvements to the ancient buildings, but it came at a cost: the order lost its former peace and privacy to the madness of celebrity. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, arrive at the monastery, it is clear that it is a community divided. “… what had started the rift? Where did the crack begin? What blow, minor or otherwise, had started it all?” (Ch 11) – Gamache knows that when he has the answer to these questions, he’ll have the murderer.
The Beautiful Mystery is well-written and well-paced, much more about its characters than its crime – just as I’ve come to expect from Louise Penny. But I missed Three Pines! – which I’ve also come to expect from her. The ending was a little melodramatic, too: now I’m worried about Beauvoir and will need to read How the Light Gets In immediately. Still and all, thoroughly enjoying this series. One more to go, and it better be set in the Pines!
In this book, we are not in the familiar setting of Three Pines with the residents of that small village that I've come to love. (But, honestly, Three Pines needs a break from all of the murder.) But Gamache and Beauvoir are back, and this time they are solving a murder at a monastery. The monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups live in the wilderness of Quebec, maintain a vow of silence, and sing Gregorian chants that are more beautiful than those sung in any other place. When a recording of the chants is released to the public, a rift grows between the monks and the result is murder. Penny includes some rich detail about Gregorian chants, which adds another layer to the book. Additionally, the tragedies that have befallen Gamache and Beauvoir in the past continue to haunt them. In fact, it is this continuing storyline that dominates the end of the book and that provides the link to the next in the series. Write fast, Ms. Penny!
Gamache was introduced to readers in Penny’s ’Three Pines’ mystery series, but he has stolen the series from the small Canadian village and become the focus of Penny‘s mythology.
(If anyone within reading distance hasn’t read the earlier books, stop. Read no further. Go forth and ’glom’ the Penny oeuvres. Each book builds on earlier characterizations and events, and, while you can read and enjoy an individual offering, it lacks of the nuanced depth of reading the series in toto.)
Gamache resonates with modern readers because, in part, he is that stable trustworthy figure who understands right and wrong, good and evil, but who also values justice and mercy.
However, it is not a well-balanced and fair world, and Gamache and his team have encountered an evil that is slowly tearing them apart.
In Penny’s current offering, Gamache and his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, have been sent to the mysterious monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups to ferret out the evil that has resulted in the murder of one of the two dozen musical monks.
Evil lies within the cloistered community; but unfortunately, Gamache and Jean-Guy bring evil and dissention of their own into the Canadian backwoods. They are still mourning the line-of-duty deaths of members of their team and dealing with the consequences.
Penny’s award winning novels have a depth missing in most contemporary mysteries and are, in my opinion, more ‘novel’ than ‘mystery.’ But they are becoming increasingly dark.
To complicate the investigation, Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur arrived bringing his own baggage from a prior book. His conflict with Gamache comes to a head, and now involves Beauvoir. Although this conflict beats up, it isn't resolved and promises to continue in the next book.
The mystery is slow for much of the book, and isn't one the reader can solve. Clues flow in throughout the book, and is solved suddenly. The book is more about the characters and the chants. The chants are a spiritual influence on the characters. The monastic life of the monks is forefront in the novel. The monks have a natural ability to read people and understand unstated feelings, which provides a challenge to Gamache's investigation as their skill seems to surpass his own.
Best quote from the book:
Following the arrival of an envoy from the Vatican.
"Jeez," said Beauvoir. "The Inquisition. I didn't expect that."
"No one does," said Gamache.
ALthough slow in the middle, I found the book very enjoyable. A must read for Gamache or Louise Penny fans, but read them in order!
There are apparently other books by Penny about Inspector Gamache, but this was my first. There were enough background details that I didn't need to have read them.
Just two dozen monks live at the monastery, where they grow vegetables, tend chickens, cook, maintain the buildings and grounds and--most important--worship God. Their days are spent in near-silence, except for the hours they spend in prayer and singing Gregorian chants. All of the Gilbertines have a gift for singing and most were recruited from other religious communities for their singing talent.
Singing brought the monks together, but it also tore them apart. The murdered monk was Frère Mathieu, the prior and choirmaster. His recording of the Gilbertines' chants became a surprise sensation, bringing in much-needed money to the monastery but, with it, attention and demands from the secular world. Mathieu thought the attention was, literally, a Godsend; they could use the public spotlight to benefit the monastery and spread the word of God. But this would require the abolition of their tradition of silence and the loss of their solitary contemplative life on the hidden island.
Dom Philippe, the abbot, and Mathieu's closest friend in the monastery, decided that these losses would destroy the Gilbertine order, and he ruled that there would be no further recordings of the chants and no public appearances by the monks. But what started as a difference of opinion between two friends grew to an enmity that split the community. Did one of the monks on the abbot's side of the schism decide that Frère Mathieu had to be eliminated to save the order?
What Gamache doesn't at first recognize is that there is a parallel to the monastery's schism much closer to home. For several years, there has been a venomous animosity between Gamache and Sylvain Françoeur, the man who is now the Superintendent of the Sûreté. The poison of their relationship has spread within the police force, causing rancor and distrust among colleagues.
Gamache and Beauvoir must stay at the monastery to investigate Frère Mathieu's murder. They fall into the rhythm of life at the monastery. More important than the monks' work is each day's prayer sessions. This is when the mesmerizing sound of the chants fills the chapel and seems to work a physical and emotional change in the listener. The book's descriptions of the chants and their history compelled me to listen to some as I read. (You can do it, too, by going to the Pandora website and searching for the Gregorian Chant music channel.)
In their quiet, deliberate way, Gamache and Beauvoir investigate on their own, without the rest of their team, with no internet access or forensics lab, without their families or any intrusion from the outside world. It's as if they are themselves cloistered monks, which makes it almost a peaceful time--until the investigation takes a turn and the plot's pace accelerates, building to a stormy climax. This intense closing promises much more drama to come in the next book for Gamache, Beauvoir, their colleagues and loved ones. For now, though, my advice is to clear your calendar, go find the Gregorian Chant channel on Pandora, and settle down to yet another compelling entry in the Armand Gamache series.
DISCLOSURE: I received a free publisher's review copy of this book.
And shortly after I started it, I was disappointed. Very disappointed.
The problems are many, the positives, few, I am sad to say.
Where to even start?
The entire story take place in an isolated monastery..which we are to believe no one in the Church knew about until the CD, even though they trade with other monasteries in Canada, but is another issue. The fact that the entire story take place in a monastery, and that except for the police, the monks are the only characters, makes it important that the author gets the basic matters of monastic life right. Which she does not.
Monks and priests are not the same thing..in fact, very few monks in a monastery would be priests, and I have never heard of an abbot of a monastery 'scouting' monks from other orders. Does he offer a signing bonus? Just silly. She calls the chapel of the monastery the Blessed Chapel, which makes no sense. Does she mean the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which does make sense? Every time she used the phrase...which is many, many times since you have to go through the chapel to go anywhere else in the monastery, which is also wrong, it just grated on my nerves.
I am no expert..I took a course on monastic history in college that require spending a weekend at a Benedictine monastery...but I found so many mistakes I assume Penny just made this stuff up. If I could have corrected so many mistakes, it does not speak well for her research.
Oh, and then there is the Latin. Now again, I am no expert, but I did take 3 years of Latin in high school, enough to know that the several Latin phrases, phrases that are key to the plot, are badly mistranslated.
Then we have the idea that a devout monk would pull some sort of silly prank at the most sacred moment of the Mass, the consecration, to try and lure out the killer, is totally offense. Well, honestly by then I was so bored with the overly long book and so mad at all the errors and all the repetitions that I really lost interest in who the killer was. His unveiling was just another disappointment. The reason..made little sense..."So he did it huh...OK."
And then the are Gamache and Beauvior.
If you are familiar with the series, you know that awhile ago they were both injured, emotionally and physically, in a police action that went bad. Well, that story will come back to haunt us again, causing Beauvior to act in a way that, without giving away a spoiler, is, just let us say, beyond believable. Not to mention that the ending leaves us hanging in a particularly unfair way, I think.
Sadly, I could go on.
Yes, I was not a happy reader.
As I said, I have enjoyed others books in the series and hope maybe in the future, it can get back on track. This one seems totally phoned in. I really can't recommend it.
The series is set in Canada. Gamache is with the Sûreté du Québec, as is his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. In The Beautiful Mystery, Gamache and Beauvoir are called out on an unusual case and location. A monk at a monastery hidden away in the wilds of Québec has been murdered. The monastery has rebuffed visitors for the last four hundred years. There are only twenty four residents, all who live with a vow of silence - except when they are singing ancient Gregorian chants. Twenty three suspects.
Penny has yet again devised an ingenious 'closed room' mystery that had me guessing until the last pages. The exploration of the monastic lifestyle and the chants were especially interesting. In her acknowledgments Penny says "I wanted to explore this beautiful mystery. How just a few notes can take us to a different time and place. Can conjure a person, an event, a feeling. Can inspire great courage, and reduce us to tears. And in the case of this book, I wanted to explore the power of ancient chants, Gregorian chants. On those who sing them, and those who hear them." The explanation of the effect of the music on the listener was compelling. I listened to the audio version of this book and the inclusion of chants at the beginning and end of the book prompted me to put holds on some Gregorian chant CDs at the library.
But the real draw of Penny's books are the characters - especially Gamache. He is such a wise, intuitive, caring person. But he has faced his share of heartache - most notably with Beauvoir. A previous case has left both men physically and emotionally damaged. The healing has started, but has miles to go. A surprise appearance by Gamache's superior at the monastery complicates things further.
And take Gamache to a very dark place. I become so invested and immersed in the characters that populate Penny's novels that they almost feel quite real. Gamache and Beavoir's complicated relationship and their attempts to continue moving forward despite the past make them all the more believable.
Penny's storytelling is rich and varied, full of nuance and inflection. The pared down setting for this book was perfect, echoing the raw truths that are exposed. The ending has only left me hoping that Penny gives us more Gamache before too much time elapses.
I chose to listen to this latest book and may well do so with all the Gamache books. There's always a worry that a narrator will not be the right fit for the mental image you've created for a character. Ralph Cosham was the reader for The Beautiful Mystery...and he was perfect. He has a rich, full bodied voice that is deep and sonorous, conveying the quiet strength of Gamache. The cadence, rhythm, pauses and more sound like actual conversation, not simply a reading of pages. The accent passes muster and is easily understood.
Just an absolutely fantastic read/listen/series - highly recommended.
Regardless of how it was inspired, this is one amazing book. Penny's inspired descriptions of the chanting caused me to buy two recordings of Gregorian Chants from Amazon today. Her descriptions of the monastery and the life of the monks was equally evocative but I can't afford to buy a monastery so that's out. But that's the sort of reaction you can expect when you read a book with prose this persuasive. You want to be there, in the monastery, with the characters and experience what they do. It's that good a book.
There are flaws, of course. The setup of the novel is that a group of Gilbertine monks fled the Inquisition 400 years ago and established a monastery in northern Quebec. They remained undiscovered until just recently when the release of a recording of their Gregorian Chants made them well known. It's never explained how celibate monks could maintain their population across nearly 400 years and still be undiscovered. In the recent past the order began recruiting new members after they outed themselves with their chant recording but that doesn't explain how it worked in the past. The sales of their recording also provided income that allowed the monastery to modernize which becomes a factor in the plot. There's other issues like this to quibble with but they really don't matter. The book transcends petty points like that.
It's striking how Penny conveys the stillness and centered nature of the monastery despite the murder that causes the Abbot to call in Chief Inspector Gamache. Many times during the reading of this book I marveled at how adroit she is at describing current actions of the murder investigation while also conveying the emotional issues that are roiling under the surface.
I loved this book and am going to order the Kindle of Penny's first Chief Inspector Gamache novel, Still Life, which is currently priced at a bargain $2.99. It was voted runner up for the CWA's Debut Dagger Award in 2004 so I assume it's quite good also.
This book, the 8th in the series, could be read as a standalone.
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.
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 every 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 want to go back and read the earlier Inspector Gamache books.
Rated at: 5.0
One of the best parts of this book was the rich language and dialogue. Penny has a way of phrasing things in such a unique way. The following passage especially moved me:
"What did falling in love do for you? Can you ever really explain it? It filled empty spaces I never knew were empty. It cured a loneliness I never knew I had. It gave me joy. And freedom. I think that was the most amazing part. I suddenly felt both embraced and freed at the same time."
Overall, it’s really hard for me to rate this book. I loved Penny’s writing style and some of her phrasing and wording was extremely evocative and haunting. However, I was so distracted by all the things in the series I didn’t know.
I recommend this book to people who already know Gamache and I’m sure it’s (probably) a great addition to the series, but I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with it.
This novel takes the reader away from Three Pines and into a Quebec monastery. And not just any monastery - these monks have become famous from a recording of their remarkable singing. Their choir director is found murdered and Gamache and Beauvoir become the first outsiders admitted to the monastery in years.
Even though these monks live lives of peace and piety, there is a lot of barely hidden turmoil. The monks are divided over their songs - should they sing new chants for the public or not? Gamache and Beauvoir have to determine if this division led to murder...and by whom?
About halfway through the book, I became overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness, and it was difficult for me to continue reading. It became obvious that things were not likely to end well for the characters we have come to know and love. To make matters worse, Francoeur, Gamache's superior who despises him, joins the investigation.
I am glad I did continue reading until the end, because this is a very beautiful story, but as I suspected the ending was not a happy one. Perhaps Ms. Penny's next novel in the series will bring some resolution and hope to the events of this novel.
(I received this book through Amazon's Vine Program.)
The problem, according to church officials, was that the Gregorian chants used in services throughout each day had strayed so far from the originals that they were considered corrupt. As often happens, one problem led to another. Gregorian chants are ancient; they predate written music. The only thing church officials could think to do was to search for the oldest known surviving written record of the chants. But that was a problem for another century.
In this century, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, have been called to the remote monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, where one of the monks has been murdered. Hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, two dozen monks who have taken a vow of silence grow vegetables, raise chickens, make chocolate... and sing. Ironically their voices--recorded singing those ancient Gregorian chants-- have brought them fame throughout the world. Until the prior of Saint Gilbert was found murdered, no one has been allowed into the monastery-- no one until Gamache and Beauvoir, and they will not leave until the killer is unmasked. It is a perfect locked room mystery that will have profound effects upon them all.
It is almost meaningless to add my own superlatives to all the rest which have been bestowed upon such a deserving series. Although momentarily unhappy that Gamache would not be returning to the village of Three Pines (since I have several friends amongst those characters), as soon as Gamache and Beauvoir began walking through the monastery, I forgot every single scrap of my disappointment. The two policemen's differing reactions to the religious services throughout the day, the way they search the rooms of the ancient building, the way they interview each monk, and the way they each react to two other visitors from the outside, blend into the inexorable-- and heartbreaking-- end.
Reading a book by Louise Penny is a time of transcendence for me. The lyricism of her writing makes me look at the world differently whenever I raise my eyes from the page. Although the plots in her books are never anything less than first-rate, these novels are about so much more than finding a killer. They're about how we perceive the world; they're about how we perceive ourselves and those around us. They are about our humanity.
I've seen some readers complain, saying they don't like Louise Penny's books because Armand Gamache is "too good to be true." Throughout the series, characters find Gamache striking because of his sense of calm, and many of them realize that this calm is due to having been at war. That's the feeling that I've always gotten from Gamache. That his calm is very hard won-- and we see that calm shatter in this book.
Most of us have also been at war in one way or another in our lives. What some of us like to see is someone who's made it through to the other side, either in a sense of feeling like kindred spirits, or in a sense of knowing that "if he did it, I can do it, too." The Beautiful Mystery shows us that even Gamache must continue to strive for that inner calm; that he is every bit as human as the man whom he loves like a son-- Jean-Guy Beauvoir.
Each book stands on its own merits. A person doesn't have to read all the books in the series to have them make sense. But, oh what a person misses when he doesn't read each book! This series is a garden. Seeds are sown in one book that may not come to fruition until two or three books later, and this Candide-like tending of her literary garden is one of the things that makes Louise Penny's books so special.
This wonderful eighth addition to Penny's garden ends on a strong note of foreboding and makes me both eager and hesitant for book nine. On the last page, the abbot of Saint Gilbert tells Gamache of how the monastery got its name. The last line of the story, "The one I feed," will resonate with me for a long, long time.
I have not read the prior Inspector Gamache novels but now I know they will be added to my must read list. From the start I was hooked to this mystery. It slowed down a little for me in the middle but picked back up soon after. The slowdown is my only complaint but since it didn’t last long it’s not much of a setback. This one kept me guessing and kept me anxious to turn the next page. I fell in love with the characters (even some of the minor characters) and the plot. I thought that their being so many characters it would get stuffy and confusing but to my relief it all flowed well. I absolutely recommend this one, especially to mystery lovers who like to be kept on their toes.
Louise Penny has done a great job of research on the musicality of chants, and as usual, her writing reads just as musically. I really hated the ending, but it fit. Penny doesn't sugarcoat, and she's not afraid to let her characters be as human as the rest of us. I only hate that I have to wait a year for the next one, but if that's how long it takes for quality, I'll wait!
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second in command Jean-Guy Beauvior have been sent to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups to investigate the murder of one of the monks. The monastery is a closed one and the monks follow the vow of silence. Hundreds of years before the monks fled France and the Inquisition and had supposedly disappeared as an order. Two years prior to the murder, the monks had released a recording of them singing Gregorian chants and “blown their cover”. No-one is allowed into the monastery and the resultant fame from the recording has caused dissention among the monks. Gamache and Beauvior have to work through the stories of the men living in a closed environment and find the truth about the murder. The isolation of the location and the certainty that the murderer is one of the monks adds to the eeriness of the situation.
The recurring theme of the book seems to me to be that the men who have come to live there regard it as their own slice of Eden. They live for love of their God and the music. They lead simple but fulfilled lives and the music recording meant to raise money for repairs and to maintain their way of life has actually introduced the serpent in the garden. Gamache and Beauvior find a group living in harmony with a common bond but they also find the cracks and need to find out what was the issue that led one of the monks to kill. There is also an overlapping theme about the nature of the chants and the history of written music as it relates to Gregorian chants that is quite interesting.
Gamache and Beauvior have put the trauma of two years before behind them and are seemingly in a good place. Beauvior has become free of his addiction to pain killers and is secretly dating Gamache’s daughter Annie. He is happy with his life. Gamache still carries the physical and emotional scars from that time as well but he has made a sort of peace with it. The two men are forced to re-evaluate their feelings when their own personal serpent arrives at the monastery and begins to spread his poison. The ending of the book is heart wrenching and will leave the reader hungry for the next installment in the series. Ms. Penny does a wonderful job of putting the reader into the minds of the characters so that their hurts become our hurts and we really care about what happens next.