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Wednesday 28 August 2013

‘The Beautiful Mystery’ By Louise Penny

Published by Minotaur Books,
July, 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03112-9

This newest in the Armand Gamache series takes place far from the latter’s usual territory.  Gamache, Chief Inspector for the Surete du Quebec, and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his second in command for more than a decade, have been called to a “near mythical monastery. . .  which is home to two dozen cloistered, contemplative monks.  Who had built their abbey as far from civilization as they could get.”  After four centuries, no one not among those two dozen had entered there, until the murder of one of their own brings the outside world in. 

The Gilbertines were an order of monks until recently thought by the world [including the Vatican] to be extinct, whose members had taken vows of silence, poverty and isolation.
What had changed that perception was a recording of the millennia-old chants sung, several times a day, by these monks, the result of which was a clamor for more information about them, and the unexpected success of the recording.  This in turn had caused a rift among the monks, about half of them aligned with the abbot, who wanted their existence to continue as it had, and those who favoured the suspension of their vow of silence, and the wealth that would surely come to the monastery in the aftermath of a second recording.  Somehow that divide had led to murder.  The dead man was the choir director, described by all as a genius, a brilliant musician with a glorious voice [as were all the others, though to a lesser degree].

The two detectives come to gain some insight into each of the monks:  How they came to be here, in this remote place, with no link to the outside world, but men not unlike themselves.   Jean-Guy, finds that one of the monks in particular is so like him that they are like opposite sides of the same coin.  The rift in the monastery is mirrored by the one inside the Surete itself, with its roots going back some time, exacerbated by horrific events described in an earlier book in the series, its effects, both physical and emotional, still felt by both Gamache and Beauvoir.  Those effects are again explored at some length, as are the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists.

About the title:  The author summed it up in her Acknowledgements better than I ever could.  It deals with the effects of music on our brains, in this case the majesty of the Gregorian chants:  “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.”  And in this aim, the author has wholly succeeded.  The reader too can, just for a moment, merely reading about the effects on those who sing them and hear them, get a glimpse of what that must be like.  It’s been a very long time since I heard a Gregorian chant, but its memory was still very strong in my mind’s ear, if you will.  The book, while slowing down somewhat in the middle, contains such consistently charming prose that this is a minor quibble, and the book is highly recommended
Reviewer: Gloria Felt
The latest book in the series How the Light Gets In, will be published in August)

Louise Penny was born in Toronton in 1958 and became a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, specializing in hard news and current affairs. My first job was in Toronto and then moved to Thunder Bay at the far tip of Lake Superior, in Ontario. It was a great place to learn the art and craft of radio and interviewing, and listening. Since I was a child I've dreamed of writing and now I am. Beyond my wildest dreams (and I can dream pretty wild) the Chief Inspector Gamache books have found a world-wide audience, won awards and ended up on bestseller lists including the New York Times. Even more satisfying, I have found a group of friends in the writing community. Other authors, booksellers, readers - who have become important parts of our lives. I thought writing might provide me with an income - I had no idea the real riches were more precious but less substantial. Friendships. Louise lives with her husband Michael in a small village

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

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