Book review: ‘Beautiful Mystery’ by Louise Penny

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Ontario

When the music director of a remote monastery is found murdered, Chief Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Provincial Police is immediately called upon to solve the murder.

The monastery is a closed community, and no one outside of the order is ever allowed in. That is true even though the recording of Plainchant, which the monks released to gain needed financing for the monastery, has brought many pilgrims to their door. Saint-Gilbert is the home of 24 monks who have taken a vow of silence but who worship several times a day, offering their prayers in ancient harmonious chants.

The closed societyof the monastery precludes Gamache’s usual team approach. Instead of the regular cadre, Gamache and Beauvoir, his second in command, will be the only investigators and will be in the monastery for the duration, in a monastery so remote there is no reliable Internet. While Gamache appreciates the religious services and the music that constitutes them, Beauvoir finds them interminable. And investigating monks that have taken a vow of silence and have a murderer in their midst as well as two strangers proves to be a challenge. Little by little, a picture of monastic life begins to take shape, and the various monks begin to be identifiable. What also begins to be clear is that there is a definite division in the community.

Apparently the now-dead choir director wanted to do a second recording and rescind the vow of silence to allow the choir to tour and take advantage of their current popularity. That would bring the money that many of them felt was needed to maintain the monastery. The abbot saw this as an unwarranted breaking of the vows of their order. Why save the monastery if the order was no more? Both felt that God was on their side. It stood to reason that the division had led to the murder, but what were the specifics, and, most importantly, who was the murderer?

As the investigation continues, likely suspects are identified while others are slowly ruled out. The story becomes more complicated when the head of the Quebec Provincial Police, Superintendent Francoeur, finds his way to the monastery to “help.” Chief Inspector Gamache and the superintendent have a history of conflict that insures the superintendent is not here to “help.” As the murder investigation winds down, new developments challenge the inspector and Beauvoir, some of which are going to have to be solved in the next book.

“Beautiful Mystery” is a well-researched novel that provides insight into early Christian music (the beautiful) and takes the reader into a remote Catholic monastery. And the mystery is engaging as well.

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