Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

She's done it again!  In my opinion, it is difficult to find a better writer of mysteries in the current market than Louise Penny.  I was so fortunate to be the winner of an early review copy giveaway from a contest sponsored on her monthly newsletter earlier this spring.   Those of us who have been following her Chief Inspector Gamache series are not going to be disappointed by this one.  It is different.  It is not set in Three Pines.  The normal cast of characters is missing.  Instead we are presented with Armand Gamache, his deputy and beloved friend Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his arch enemy Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur, and  a group of contemplative monks who have chosen to sequester themselves in the wilderness far north of Quebec.  The monks, who  have taken a vow of silence, use their voices only in the singing of plainchant, the earliest form of Gregorian chant.  They have become world famous for the beauty and glory of their singing.

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! Penny writes so beautifully, that the reader can almost hear it. 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.

And if you haven't read them, there's still almost 3 months before publication, so what are you waiting for?
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher-Format: Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date: August 28, 2012
Subject: Gregorian chant, murder
Setting: monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups,
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache novels
Genre:  mystery, police procedural, closed door murder
Source: ARC from the author


  1. Oh wow, I wasn't aware she had a new book out this summer. Thanks for the great review.

  2. Sounds wonderful, I truly can't wait! :) She is a master at what she does.

  3. I follow Penny's blog too and knew from the time she spent at a monastery, this book would be a treasure. She's a wonderful writer and I love her characters. I was really jealous when you won this book, but I'll be reading it very soon.

  4. I skip around with Penny's books and honestly, I think the fact that this one is not in Three Pines is a plus. Really, how many murders can that little town carry?
    and now you tell me I have to wait THREE MONTHS? a disgrace..lol

  5. Hi, Tina! I hope you're having a wonderful summer!

    Wonderful review, as always. I'm so envious that you guys get to receive advance reading copies! I must admit that I haven't bothered to pick up any book by Louise Penny when I go to bookstores. Maybe I'll try out one of hers when i find myself craving for a good mystery. I think I've seen one of her books in my mother's shelves.

    By the way, I checked out your review of The Sense of an Ending. Now I want to reread it and perhaps my original opinion of it might change.

    1. Hi Peter....good to see you on the boards. I hope you will enjoy The Sense of an Ending on re-read, and I definitely encourage you to check out Louise Penny when you get a chance. I just started a re-read of the entire series and am about 1/3 through the first one in the series " Still Life". I'm even more happy with it second time through.

  6. I haven't read any of her books, but that must change. I've come over for your review from War through the generations. Thanks for this one , I'm much better with crime fiction.

  7. I've read every one so far and am so looking forward to this one. She has to be one of the best contemporary mystery writers today. I think I'm a bit in love with Gamache.


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