Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

I only recently started reading the work of Canadian novelist: Louise Penny. I don't know how I missed this author's books in the past. She has written several best-selling novels and has a large international following. When I saw a recent review in one of our local newspapers about Ms. Penny's work, I decided to give one of her novels a try.
Ms. Penny's novels are written as a mystery series, featuring the main character: Chief Inspector Gamache. Most are set in the imaginary, small rural Quebec town of Three Pines.
In The Beautiful Mystery , Louise Penny's latest and much-anticipated novel, she has made an exception to that usual locale. And what an exceptional setting it is! I need to be engaged by where a story unfolds, to make any novel believable and interesting. In this regard, Ms. Penny did not disappoint.
The monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, is hidden deep in the wilderness of the Province of Quebec. Far from the prying eyes, noise and distractions of the rest of the world.
There, two dozen cloistered Roman Catholic monks have lived year after year, in brotherhood, peace and harmony. That is, until they are confronted with the unthinkable: the murder of their renowned choir director: Frere Mathieu. Reluctantly, but with no choice due to the gravity of the crime, the monks must open up their monastery and lives to the police and the investigation that follows.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his long-time second-in-command/assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec are called to the scene of the crime. The trip takes them into an area that few people have ever visited. And to the monastery that is a well-guarded secret for the most part.
The opening chapters takes us along on their journey: by plane heading to the far north and then on a boat trip which ends in a small bay where they face the imposing and impressive sight of the monastery: a fortress-like building shaped in the form of a large cross. For two hundred years, it has been the secluded home to this order of cloistered monks. 
As the author so eloquently expresses the setting: "A harbor. A safe embrace in the wilderness." But now, in reality: a deception, as their quiet way of life is about to be turned upside down.
The story takes many twists and turns along the way. The reader is left to wonder and contemplate the murderer's identity, right up to the last chapter of the book. I won't spoil the plot by getting into too much detail but it took me a while to guess the real killer, with all the suspects that seemed probable along the way.
What I liked about this book:
A mysterious setting, a glimpse into the lifestyle of a very guarded and secretive religious order, the attention to detail the author shows in developing and sharing the good and also bad in each of the monks that the reader is introduced to along the way. All is not what it seems on the outside as the two police officers are quick to realize. In addition to the murderer, there are a plenty of undercurrents, intrigues and conflicts in regards to the monks; some long-festering and just now surfacing, in the wake of this crime. Not to mention the ones between the two police officers investigating the crime!
And, what I didn't like:
I found the book very compelling until I was about 1/2 way through it, then it started to get a bit repetitious. I thought the length of this novel detracted from it's overall appeal.
For me, there comes a point in any novel (usually fairly obvious too) where the entire story has been shared as far as required and then it's time to bring together all the red herrings and puzzle pieces and start "wrapping it up" to a satisfying conclusion. Going too far, revisiting the clues, the questions, the intrigues...too many times; detracts rather than adds to any novel. In this respect, I thought the story could have been streamlined a bit.
I also noted over at Amazon what diverse reviews there are for this book. Many 5 and 4 star reviews but also quite a few of the 1, 2 and 3's too.
A couple of points that other reviewers mentioned that caught my attention were concerns about the actual research that went into this book, in particular regarding the Gregorian chants that figure prominently in this story. I don't know much about historical religious music so I can't comment on that, but something that piqued my interest. Also, a comment about the author suggesting an unspoken but implied acceptance of homosexuality at this RC monastery. I noted that in the book as well and coming from a Roman Catholic upbringing myself, it was something that didn't ring true.
In spite of some misgivings about this book, I did find it enjoyable and engaging. I'm not sorry that I took the time to read it and I will definitely be checking out some of Louise Penny's other books.

This book is also available in an audiobook format from Macmillan Audio.  Click for a preview.  
Overall rating for this book: Good. 3 out of 5.


  1. I love her books. Having spent lots of time in Quebec, i really enjoy them.

  2. Excellent review. This is another book I want to read now.

  3. Weird isn't it it's very rare that I buy Canadian Author's Books if only because I can't travel and I want to hear about other places...
    ps it was not Sammi even though I had her scan and they found no chips, I had doubts because of the pink nipples and she said it was nothing, so the next day I brought her to the Vet, 'cause I was sure she was either pregnant or had had her kittens and yes it was confirm. Sammi was operated on a long time ago and that cat that I thought was mine was very young. And the man who gave her to me, was happy to do so, he didn't want her around anymore although it was his male unoperated cat that made her pregnant although he screamed at me and hung up on me I got my point across, it's your responsibility. At least I gave the new mom a good nights wasm sleep and she ate like four, so lots of milk for her litter. I think Sammi is Dead or she would have come back, but I'm not leaving not matter what the owner pulls on me, I'm staying throughout the winter because if she doesn't back then, she's dead, at least I'll know that she's healthy happy and more loved that could have ever imagined

  4. oh it should put mynew profile on...I don't where my dryer is ....

  5. I've tried reading some of her books, but they always seem to come when the library gives me so many,and they get forgotten.

    I will try again someday, I've heard really good things about her.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  6. I also just finished reading this book, and did like it alot.
    At first I found it abit slow, and I was dissapointed that it was not set in Three Pines, as I love the characters from her previous novels. Like you I did warm up to it, and enjoyed it. I am just now hoping for her next novel, as I felt devastated by the ending.

  7. Hi SandyL, I learned something new about you, spending lots of time in Quebec, that's interesting. A couple of years ago, Joe and I almost moved to a small town in Quebec, we both had job offers there. But decided to stay in BC for several reasons. It's a place I would like to see though.

    Hi Joe, I've got a copy if you need one. ;<)

    Hi Lorraine, I actually don't take too much note of where any author is from. And as far as Canadian writers, there's more and more good ones to choose from, isn't there, especially for general fiction. That was a rather scarce market here, for much too long. I'm so sorry about Sammi but maybe this new cat was meant to find you too. Looked like such a cutie, maybe she needs you Lorraine. I know it's not the same...hugs dear.

    Hi Jen, LOL, I hear ya. I have stacks of books around the house, all the time. A lot of review copies and gifts and some from the library and inter-library loans too. Let me know if you give this one a try.

    Hi Brenda, I remember you mentioning that you are a big fan of Louise Penny. I actually felt just the opposite about this one, I loved reading to about 1/2 way...I was totally engrossed in the story and then I thought it got to be a bit repetitious. Overall, I enjoyed the story, in spite of a couple of reservations I mentioned above.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Happy Reading and Happy Week, G :<)

  8. I had to return her to her litter or they would have starved to death, she knew where they were, I open the cage door and she ran out of view in no time at all, and prayed to God that the man didn't get rid of them....I have to let go, the pain everywhere Is making want to hide in hole again have to let go, let could you send me the link again about knitting and casting on I'm a disaster and most videos they just go too fast and they call casting on for beginners? ggeeesh or I'm get dummer by the minute, which is highlypossibe ;)

  9. Ger, Sorry, I DID read your review, I think I was just tired when I wrote my comment. I found the book more interesting as I read, which WAS the opposite of your experience. :)

  10. Hi Lorraine, I hope things ease up for you this week, I know you've been through so much lately. BTW, did you know that there are no comment options over at your blog? I tried to leave a comment there a couple of times.

    Hi Brenda, Very interesting how we all interpret what we read in different ways. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, always. They are appreciated.

    Happy Week, G :<)


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