The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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October 11, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

       Frere Simon looked up from the page, his face extremely stern, severe even. But Gamache didn’t back down. The two men stared at each other for a moment, until Simon finally broke contact and looked back down at the page. 
       After a minute or so of silence, Gamache heard a sound. It seemed quite far off, and he wondered if a plane was approaching again. It was a haunting sort of hum. 
      Then he realized it wasn’t coming from outside at all,but inside. 
      The sound was coming from Frere Simon. 
      What started as a drone, a hum, a note hanging in the air, turned into something else. With a swoop, the note descended, and seemed to play in the lower registers before leaping back up. Not a jagged leap, but a soft soar. 
      It seemed to sweep into Gamache’s chest and surround his heart, then take it along for the ride. Higher and higher. But never precipitous, never dangerous. Never did Gamache feel the music, or his heart, were about to come crashing down.
     There was a certainty, a confidence. A lilting joy. 
     Words had replaced the hum, and now Frere Simon was singing. Gamache, of course, couldn’t understand the Latin, and yet he felt he understood completely. 
      Frere Simon’s clear, calm, rich tenor held the notes, the nonsensical words, like a lover. There was no judgment there, just acceptance, in the voice and in the music. 
      And then the final note descended to the earth, softly, gently, a tender landing.

I miss Three Pines and the bistro and the bookstore. But I guess a tiny village, one that's not even on the map, can only have so many murders. :)

In this newest Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, Gamache and Beauvoir are sent to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups (St. Gilbert Among the Wolves), to look into the sudden death of one of the monks cloistered there. The abbey, deep in the forests of Quebec, is a place no one has known about till recently, until it became famous because of a recording of Gregorian chant that has gone viral. So Gamache and Beauvoir are enclosed in another hidden, remote, somewhat unreal community, and the motives and clues they find are all linked to the music that binds this order of monks together.

As Gamache tells Reine-Marie, Gregorian chant, and its 'beautiful mystery,' 'swirls around' this case. Is the piece of parchment the dead monk was holding something ancient, or a new,  never heard form of chanting? Should the monks remain enclosed, away from the world, or would another recording, and maybe a concert tour, raise enough money to restore the monastery's crumbling foundations?  Their investigation is complicated by the factions that emerge among the monks, some supporting the abbot, others on the side of the murdered monk, who was the choir director.  Gamache and Beauvoir are also disturbed and angered by Chief Superintendent Francoeur (a wonderfully hateful character), and they are still recovering, or not recovering, from the shooting in the factory and the rents it may have made in their friendship. And then there is another mysterious visitor, in a place that visitors never come to.

I came suddenly, not too long ago, to be so fond of Louise Penny's books, and to have the crush it's hard not to have on Armand Gamache. {I just read that Canadian television is filming  Still Life, one of the earlier books, with Nathaniel Parker -- who played Inspector Lynley -- as Gamache. I don't mind, but he's so different!  I've been trying to think of an actor who resembles Gamache more, and I just can't. And I remember P.D. James, when I heard her speak in Boston, saying that Roy Marsden did not fit her image of Adam Dalgleish, either.}

If someone hasn't read her books, I might suggest not starting with this one, if only because I think you'd be missing some of the quirkiness, and the earlier events that set up what is happening with Gamache and Beauvoir in this one. After reading the two books that came after it, this one and last year's, I still think Bury Your Dead is her best book, and possibly one of the best mysteries I've ever read ... but reading (listening to) The Beautiful Mystery was still very satisfying, too.


Lisa May said...

When Louise Penny was in Houston, she mentioned that Ciaran Hinds was in talks to play Gamache, and I thought (and think) he'd be perfect. That might have even tempted me to see the film. I could see Parker as Beauvoir, though.

I haven't read this book yet - I started it, but I ended up setting it aside for a while. It's the first of her books I haven't devoured, and I'm not quite sure why.

Audrey said...

Hi, Lisa May:
OK, closer, though after seeing (and hearing) Ciaran Hinds in that terrible political series this summer (I could barely watch one episode) I need to watch Persuasion 10 or 12 times to bring him back to crush-worthiness. :)

This book was different, and that often puts me off, but I did like it in the end.

Lisa May said...

I was thinking of him too in Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day - he had a very Gamachesque twinkle in his eye there but also a dignity. I'm glad I missed the political series!

Audrey said...

Oh, I forgot about that! I agree! :)

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