Louise Penny is one of those authors you happen upon quite by chance and wonder Why haven’t I been reading her before this? It was my luck to review A TRICK OF THE LIGHT when it came out in 2011, and after raving about her to everyone I knew, I immediately downloaded two earlier books to become better acquainted with her thoroughly captivating characters. It was pure indulgence, almost like ordering two desserts after a fulfilling meal. Naturally, the moment I saw her new novel for this cycle of reviews, I snatched it up. I’m so glad I did!
"If it’s possible for Penny to outdo herself, she has accomplished it.... In THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, she casts the meditative spell of Plainchant on the human spirit. With riveting suspense to the very last paragraph, Penny weaves a deepening web of intrigue..."
Inspector Gamache and homicide detective Jean-Guy Beauvoir are summoned to an abbey deep in the Canadian woods housing an ancient cloistered sect of 24 monks. The men serve under a vow of silence using their voices only for Gregorian chanting. A recording of their mesmerizing Plainchants was mysteriously released to the public to become an international bestselling phenomenon. As a result, the poverty-stricken abbey has seen an influx of money, which is both a blessing and a curse. The crumbling stone abbey is near collapse, but the prospect of more wealth is dividing the men despite their devotion to their work. Now the choir director has been murdered, and only one of the resident monks can be the killer. Until now, they lived in peace and obscurity with no one aware of their location.
Gamache and Beauvoir travel by sea plane and boat to the remote setting to investigate the murder. Their search for the killer is a goosebump-inducing experience --- not because of any terror or macabre events, but because of the flawless plotting and storytelling of the author. The mystical chants offered morning, noon and night leave charismatic and healing effects on Gamache, a devout man. An opposite, unsettling feeling haunts the cynical Beauvoir. There is no escape from their inner thoughts in the confined circumstances as the chants seem to fill every recess of the great stone abbey.
The two detectives will stay until the murder is solved, so they are assigned simple cells that reflect the same austere living conditions of the monks. The brothers are completely self-sufficient, raising their own foods and medicinal herbs in their garden, tending their livestock, picking wild blueberries to be steeped in their secret chocolate recipe to sell to sustain their order and maintain the 400-year-old abbey.
Gamache and Beauvoir share more than their profession; they barely survived a devastating Montreal warehouse riot a year earlier, which has left its mark on both men in very different ways. Beauvoir is also in love with Gamache’s daughter, a fact that the two lovers have kept secret.
If it’s possible for Penny to outdo herself, she has accomplished it. In each of her books, her depth of knowledge of the arts is brought to the fore. In THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, she casts the meditative spell of Plainchant on the human spirit. With riveting suspense to the very last paragraph, Penny weaves a deepening web of intrigue as the two men battle their inner demons in the cloistered community, while the all-too-worldly politics of the religious community penetrates even the deep forests of Quebec Province.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 6, 2012