Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

There were so many things I enjoyed about The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny, and a few tiny things that I didn’t.   

A Gregorian monk is murdered at Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a 200-year-old abbey in Quebec. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, of the Surete du Quebec (police), the only non-monks ever allowed into Saint-Gilbert, arrive to find a stunningly beautiful monastery, and the choirmaster with his head bashed in.

Turns out the 24 monks that make up the abbey are there because they were “recruited,” not based upon piety, but rather their singing voices. Chanting is at the core of the monastery, the mystery and the murder. The why’s, how’s, history and politics of chanting – which is "The Beautiful Mystery," is also the conflict that incited murder among the otherwise holier-than-thous (no sarcasm intended).  

I listened to the audio book and I’m glad that I did as it included snippets of beautiful chants  throughout, and the narrator, Ralph Cosham, was wonderful. He is the first narrator that’s made me want to listen to another book, simply because he reads it. At the end of my review I’ll provide an audio sample of  Ralph Cosham’s reading of The Beautiful Mystery, and a sample chant, so you can appreciate Penny’s commendable writing, Cosham's narrative skills, and learn a little history about chants – all things that I loved about this book.

I didn’t like that I sometimes felt a little lost. The Beautiful Mystery is one in Louise Penny’s series of books that include Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir. They have history, and that history is somewhat important in understanding the dynamics of the story. A bit of that history was revealed, but I felt like an outsider. I suspect that Penny has a strong following as the tension between the characters was apparent and engaging, and would no doubt be even more so if one fully understood what got them there.

I also found a couple of the plot lines and characters unbelievable. For example, Beauvoir is introduced as a loving, smart and loyal persona, and yet he becomes something else so radically, and in my opinion, too quickly to be believable. Also, it was implied that the Catholic Church didn’t know that this monastery existed – but the monks at Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups had recorded a CD of chants, which went viral, bringing the world, literally and figuratively to their doors. It was only when the choirmaster was murdered that an emissary from Rome arrived.

All in all, I found the book an interesting read, albeit a little slow at times, but Penny’s writing makes up for that, almost. I couldn’t help but compare it to The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, which was also based on murder in a monastery, but which had more exciting events to keep you engaged (i.e., more than one murder and a few more plot twists).

I do recommend reading Louise Penny (pictured), but I would suggest that you start at the beginning of her series of mysteries as I think you will enjoy the characters more as you experience the development of those relationships – set in the context of good storytelling. Her other books, in order of publication include Still Life in 2008, The Brutal Telling in 2009, and then five more published in 2011 (apparently publisher Minotaur saw the dollar signs on the wall) Dead Cold, The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder, Bury Your Dead, and A Trick of the Light.

Here’s the sample of Ralph Cosham reading of The Beautiful Mystery. I think you’ll see what is to appreciate about both Penny’s writing, and Cosham’s reading.

Here’s a sample of chanting – which I find mesmerizing and beautiful (in small doses).

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