Written by Louise Penny — Although it was first released in the UK last summer, so many readers have recommended this book that we had to bring you a full review. The Beautiful Mystery takes us to a remote monastery on an island in Quebec, 24 monks live in splendid isolation. Their lives are filled with prayer, hard work – and Gregorian chant, handed down to them by long forgotten generations. They are Gilbertians, the last surviving outpost of this brotherhood, and have taken a vow of silence.
The monastery is so well-hidden, in fact, that no-one realised it was there – until, in a bid to raise funds to repair their crumbling buildings, the monks released a recording of their plainsong; a recording so unlike anything heard previously that it became a global sensation, and threatened to destroy their peaceful, self-sufficient existence.
Since the monks sprung to fame, many have tried to enter the monastery, but all have been turned away. Everything changes, however, when one of their number is murdered. Reluctantly, the abbot must open his doors to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. And the pair have their work cut out to find the killer of Frère Mathieu, the prior and musical director of the monk. He was the man behind the recording which changed the lives of the order forever.
I love books with a sense of place, and The Beautiful Mystery has it in spades. The monastery is so well described that you can almost smell the incense emanating from its pages and hear the haunting melodies of the plainsong which has always made the monks so happy – and which could now bring about their downfall. The place certainly works its spell on Gamache and Beauvoir too, though in wildly different ways. The Chief Inspector is a great fan of the music the monks produce and finds the monastery a sublimely peaceful place. On the other hand, Jean-Guy is counting the days until he can leave the island and get back to real life. Notwithstanding their disparate reactions to the setting, the pair unite in pursuit of the mysterious killer, and their task is not made easy. How do you interview men who are unused to talking and adept at holding their own counsel? It soon becomes clear that not everyone is telling the truth about the morning that Frère Mathieu died.
The Beautiful Mystery is the eighth novel to feature Gamache, but the first I have read in the series created by multi-award winning author Louise Penny. The back stories of Armand and Jean-Guy are well placed throughout the narrative and play a vital part in how the tale pans out. The pair were previously involved in an investigation which went disastrously wrong, leaving colleagues dead and Gamache and Beauvoir badly hurt. The repercussions of that day are still being felt as they are forced to stay at the silent, lonely monastery.
This brilliant book has music, mystery, well-fleshed-out characters both nasty and nice -and sometimes it is hard to tell between the two. It offers a spectacular location and a first-class plot which has more diversions than the M25 motorway. I desperately wanted to get to the end of the book and find out whodunnit, then was bereft at having no more to read because I found the story and its characters so compelling. Thank heavens the door has been left wide open for book nine – I hope it isn’t long in arriving.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars