(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Beautiful Mystery, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache novels. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
Concealed deep in the Québec wilderness, in a remote spot accessible only by boat, the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups is not a place that welcomes visitors. Even the most determined tourists are turned away from the 300-year-old community of Gilbertine monks. Isolation guarantees the holy men the quiet peace they need to worship God and tend to their simple chores. Although the Gilbertines have recently received worldwide attention due to a recording of their ancient and achingly beautiful Gregorian chants, they desire only to be left alone.
When Frére Mathieu, the order's choirmaster, is brutally murdered in the abbot's private garden, the monks are forced to ask for outside help. Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûrete de Québec, is soon on the job along with his right-hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. As the duo investigates the crime, they find an order torn between privacy and publicity, its loyalties divided between two dynamic leaders. Discontent wafts through the monastery's silent corridors. Tension simmers below the surface—in one of the gentle brothers, it has bubbled over. But which one? Who was angry enough to bash Frére Mathieu's head in? It's up to Gamache and Beauvoir to find out.
At the same time Gamache and Beauvoir are examining the cracks in the Gilbertines' peaceful exterior, they're experiencing troubling fissures a lot closer to home. When time-honored loyalties are put to the ultimate test on both fronts, no one will escape unscathed—not the Gilbertines, nor the Sûrete de Québec and its infamous Chief Inspector.
As much as I love Three Pines—the quaint village where most of Louise Penny's books are set—I'm always intrigued when the author chooses a different location for one of her mysteries. The monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (which is fictional, unlike the Gilbertines who existed but went extinct) is a fascinating locale, especially because it creates a "locked room" mystery that is all the more complex despite fewer players on scene. Like the previous seven books in the Armand Gamache series, The Beautiful Mystery offers a compelling, multi-layered story peopled with interesting characters. Kind, intelligent Gamache is always my favorite. I enjoyed the deeper look at his psyche, especially as it intertwines with that of his protegé, Beauvoir. I'm not going to lie, though, the ending of The Beautiful Mystery broke my heart more than a little. Gamache's pain went straight to my heart. I had to inhale the next book in the series immediately, just to reassure myself that the Chief Inspector would be okay. At least eventually. My investment in these characters is a testament to Penny's skill at creating a vibrant, believable world filled with people I wish I knew. I love this series, which gets better with every installment.
(Readalikes: Other books in the Armand Gamache series, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; The Hangman [novella]; A Trick of the Light; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; A Great Reckoning; and Glass Houses)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
To the FTC, with love: Another library