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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

I typically do not read crime novels. I have covered this before, but in a nutshell – I’m a neurotic who is afraid of crime. Prior to receiving a copy of Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, I was not aware of her fifteen book Inspector Gamache series. We have had Penny’s books in the store, but they were as foreign to me as most other mystery novels. I was encouraged to pick this novel up based on the strength of its setting; The Beautiful Mystery takes place within a cloistered monastery in Quebec. Then I found out that the title refers to ancient chants believed to be the literal voice of God on Earth and I was hooked.

The story centers around an aging police inspector, Gamache, and his young protege, Jean Guy. As I said, this is the fifteenth book in the series, so the two men have a long history, but it was not difficult to suss out their feelings for one another as a newcomer to the series. The admiration they feel is palpable and, when coupled with the fact that Jean Guy is engaged to Gamache’s daughter, the father-son dynamic is there without the necessity of fourteen books worth of character development.

The two men are called in to investigate a murder within a monastery. Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups happens to be a world famous monastery. After releasing a recording of its divine chants, the world has taken notice of the small group of monks studying ancient music in the Canadian wilderness. It quickly comes to light that the murder has to do with this sudden fame. There is a rift amongst the monks between those who wish to be more open to the world and share their music and those that believe they should remain cloistered, serving in solitude. The turmoil amongst the monks is wonderfully countered by Jean Guy’s jaded religious views.

Things become very tense near the end of the novel when Gamache’s superior, with whom Gamache has a difficult relationship, shows up at the monastery in order to cause friction between our dynamic duo. The mystery itself begins to play second fiddle to the characters, as is likely to happen in a series that is propelled by its characters, but like all good detectives Gamache gets his man. Everything wraps up satisfactorily if a little quickly with just the right amount of strings left dangling for the next installment.

As I read more mystery novels, I am beginning to realize patterns within them. There are certain techniques that authors employ and audiences expect – it is a whole new way of looking at the material I am reading. I’ve been enjoying getting to know the genre and definitely look forward to more forays into other authors as well as more of Penny’s Gamache series. As long as we can maintain a low body count and keep the violence to a minimum, I should be okay.

Also, completely irrelevant, but is Armand Gamache not a fantastic name for a detective? For that, I commend you, Louise Penny.

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