Beautiful Mystery (Penny)

The Beautiful Mystery (Inspector Gamache series, 8)
Louise Penny, 2012
St. Martin's Press
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312655464



Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1958
Where—Toronto, Canada
Education—B.A, Ryerson University
Awards—Agatha Award (4 times) "New Blood" Dagger Award;
   Arthur Ellis Award; Barry Award, Anthony Award; Dilys Award.
Currently—lives in Knowlton, Canada (outside of Montreal)


In her words
I live outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border. I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born in Toronto 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. That was the key. A good interviewer rarely speaks, she listens. Closely and carefully. I think the same is true of writers.

From Thunder Bay I moved to Winnipeg to produce documentaries and host the CBC afternoon show. It was a hugely creative time with amazingly creative people. But I decided I needed to host a morning show, and so accepted a job in Quebec City. The advantage of a morning show is that it has the largest audience, the disadvantage is having to rise at 4am.

But Quebec City offered other advantages that far outweighed the ungodly hour. It's staggeringly beautiful and almost totally French and I wanted to learn. Within weeks I'd called Quebecers "good pumpkins", ordered flaming mice in a restaurant, for dessert naturally, and asked a taxi driver to "take me to the war, please." He turned around and asked "Which war exactly, Madame?" Fortunately elegant and venerable Quebec City has a very tolerant and gentle nature and simply smiled at me.

From there the job took me to Montreal, where I ended my career on CBC Radio's noon programme.

In my mid-thirties the most remarkable thing happened. I fell in love with Michael, the head of hematology at the Montreal Children's Hospital. He'd go on to hold the first named chair in pediatric hematology in Canada, something I take full credit for, out of his hearing.

It's an amazing and blessed thing to find love later in life. It was my first marriage and his second. He'd lost his first wife to cancer a few years earlier and that had just about killed him. Sad and grieving we met and began a gentle and tentative courtship, both of us slightly fearful, but overcome with the rightness of it. And overcome with gratitude that this should happen to us and deeply grateful to the family and friends who supported us.

Fifteen years later we live in an old United Empire Loyalist brick home in the country, surrounded by maple woods and mountains and smelly dogs.

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.

There are times when I'm in tears writing. Not because I'm so moved by my own writing, but out of gratitude that I get to do this. In my life as a journalist I covered deaths and accidents and horrible events, as well as the quieter disasters of despair and poverty. Now, every morning I go to my office, put the coffee on, fire up the computer and visit my imaginary friends, Gamache and Beauvoir and Clara and Peter. What a privilege it is to write. I hope you enjoy reading the books as much as I enjoy writing them.

Chief Inspector Gamache was inspired by a number of people, and one main inspiration was this man holding a copy of En plein coeur. Jean Gamache, a tailor in Granby. He looks slightly as I picture Gamache, but mostly it was his courtesy and dignity and kind eyes that really caught my imagination. What a pleasure to be able to give him a copy of En plein coeur!(From the author's website with permission.)



Book Reviews
[A]n original variation on the "no exit" whodunit…Penny writes with grace and intelligence about complex people struggling with complex emotions. But her great gift is her uncanny ability to describe what might seem indescribable—the play of light, the sound of celestial music, a quiet sense of peace.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times


With enormous empathy for the troubled human soul—and an ending that makes your blood race and your heart break—Penny continues to raise the bar of her splendid series.
People


(Starred review.) Religious music serves as the backdrop for bestseller Penny’s excellent eighth novel featuring Chief Insp. Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete (after 2011’s A Trick of the Light). Gamache and his loyal number two, Insp. Jean-Guy Beauvoir, travel to the isolated monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, which produced a CD of Gregorian chants that became a surprise smash hit, to investigate the murder of its choirmaster, Frere Mathieu, found within an enclosed garden in a fetal position with his head bashed in. Gamache soon finds serious divisions among the outwardly unified and placid monks, and begins to encourage confidences among them as a first step to catching the killer. Traditional mystery fans can look forward to a captivating whodunit plot, a clever fair-play clue concealed in plain view, and the deft use of humor to lighten the story’s dark patches. On a deeper level, the crime provides a means for Penny’s unusually empathic, all-too-fallible lead to unearth truths about human passions and weaknesses while avoiding simple answers.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Penny's (A Trick of the Light) eighth elegant entry in her Agatha Award-winning series is a locked-room mystery set in a remote monastery deep in the wilderness of northern Québec. There are 24 cloistered monks. One is dead. There are only 23 suspects. The monks have taken a vow of silence, except that they made the most beautiful recording of Gregorian chant ever heard. And it caused a schism. And then a murder. Chief Inspector Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec come to investigate the murder and the difficulties in this formerly peaceful order that caused it. It also brings the viper within the Surete to this remote place and exposes the rot inside Gamache's own house. Verdict: This heart-rending tale is a marvelous addition to Penny's acclaimed series. Fans won't be disappointed. —Marlene Harris, Reading Reality LLC, Atlanta
Library Journal


(Starred review.) An entire mystery novel centering on Gregorian chants (whose curiously hypnotic allure is called the “beautiful mystery”)? Yes, indeed, and in the hands of the masterful Penny, the topic proves every bit as able to transfix readers as the chants do their listeners.
Booklist


Elliptical and often oracular… also remarkably penetrating and humane. The most illuminating analogies are not to other contemporary detective fiction but to The Name of the Rose and Murder in the Cathedral.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. What does "the beautiful mystery" of the title refer to? What are the powers and/or limitations of music throughout the novel?

2. As we get to know the inner workings of the monastery, how do you come to regard the community of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups and the individuals who choose to devote their lives to it?

3. To solve the crime Gamache needs "to think about the Divine, the human, and the cracks in between." How do all of these qualities manifest themselves in the story?

4. What do you see as Gamache's greatest strengths as a detective and as a man? Does he also have weaknesses?

5. How do you view Jean-Guy Beauvoir throughout the book? What do you think will become of him?

6. Because the monastery is so cut off from most methods of communication, text messages take on unusual importance for Gamache and Beauvoir. How does Louise Penny use them to convey the tone of real-world relationships?

7. What do you make of Francoeur's fierce hatred for Gamache? What does the novel tell us about good and evil, and is the distinction between them always clear? For example, see page 318, where Gamache sits through the service in the Blessed  Chapel amid "peace and rage,  ilence and singing. The Gilbertines and the Inquisition. The good men and the not-so-good."

8. The abbot tells Gamache, "That's the difference between us, Chief Inspector. You need proof in your line of work. I don't." What role does faith play for various characters in the novel?

9. At one point Gamache finds himself wondering if the abbot's private garden "existed on different planes. It was both a place of grass and earth and flowers. But also an allegory. For that most private place inside each one of them. For some it was a dark, locked room. For others, a garden." How might that allegory apply to particular characters in The Beautiful Mystery?

10. When Gamache quotes the line from Murder in the Cathedral, "Some malady is coming upon us," Frere Sebastien replies, "Modern times. That’s what came upon the Gilbertines." Do you feel that the monks could or should have remained in isolation from the outside world forever?

11. How is The Beautiful Mystery similar to/different from the books set in Three Pines?

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