Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Book Revuew Louise Penny The Beautiful Mystery





Penny, Louise  The Beautiful Mystery  2012  Book 8 in series

“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?´ is a quote from T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral that keeps coming up in Louise Penny’s eighth book in her Inspector Gamache series.  Each time it is mentioned it helps to highlight grave internal decisions faced by the characters.  
The setting is not in Three Pines this time and it inserts Gamache and his assistant Jean Guy Beauvoir deep into the Quebec’s wilderness where a group of cloistered monks are facing the apparent murder of their own choir director. Once the detectives are on the scene, it becomes apparent that brotherly rifts have been simmering for some time over whether the order ought to issue a second CD of Gregorian Chants  to capitalize on a wildly successful first one. The money earned had enabled the completion of some major repairs to their buildings, but it had been at a cost of allowing the modern world and modern temptations to enter their peaceful seclusion and reduce their concentration on their music and their faith.   

Surrounding this central plot is the all-enveloping presence of Gregorian Chant as an accompaniment to the daily monastery rituals of worship. Penny displays a wealth of  research and love for music on almost every page. We learn a lot about the history of the Gregorian chant, the sounds of various chants, and their impact on the psyches of both the singers and their listeners. 

The chosen setting also lends itself to the emotional pressure cooker of the classic  whodunit.  Agatha Christie would definitely approve of a murder in a walled  monastery  located off the grid on the shores of a cold lake surrounded by deep forests and swirling mists. Access is only by boat or seaplane. The 24 resident monks, supposedly dedicated to Christian love and service, are then confronted with the unpleasant knowledge that one of their sequestered brethren is a violent killer.     
To complicate things further Gamache and Jean Guy bring with them their own demons. They are both still suffering from the horrors of the disastrous factory shootout that resulted in the deaths of several young officers and seriously injured both of them.  Their guilt rushes even closer to the surface when Inspector Francoeur, Gamache’s superior. swoops in like a giant bird of prey to stir an already boiling pot.
This allows Penny to zero in on questions of responsibility and guilt. Why must there be guilt? Who is to blame for the outcome? Must there always be blame? If so is it singular or plural?  The chapter ends with Gamache thinking about the monestery’s own patron Saint (Saint Gilbert), who had taken sides in King Henry’s dispute with the Archbishop of Canterbury long years ago. Gamache asks himself, if it is ever right to kill or hurt one for the sake of the many? This impacts the murder at the monastery as well as his own pending conflict with Jean Guy and the even more nasty conflict with his superior. Penny seems to answer with a biblical quote--Matthew 10:36--  “And a man’s foes, shall they be of his own household?” This clearly cuts several ways and adds to the moral complexities that Ms. Penny delivers. 
I found this book a bit chillier than some of her earlier offerings. I do kind of miss some of the warmth and humor that creeps into those that are set in Three Pines. There is no monk who can hold a candle to Ruth Zardo and her acerbic comments or her pet duck. Some other minor quibbles would be that It was a bit much to see the big boss Francoeur make such a long and hard trip just to prosecute his feud with Gamache.  It also took some suspension of disbelief to accept that the monks had been out recruiting singers of supreme quality for over two hundred years and yet remained secret and basically unknown until the murder.  Finally the late appearance of the Inquisition all the way from Rome was definitely a step too far. Three arrivals at  this remote place in twenty four hours does test credibility. I’m afraid I was reminded more of Monty Python when he showed up.  

I give it a 3 and move on to the next one.

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