The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny has taken another gamble with this unique novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. When a monk is found at a remote priory in the Quebec woods, Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir make the difficult trek to investigate. Using this whittled down Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, Gamache soon discovers that the priory is well-known for its chanting monks, who were headed by music director Frère Mathieu, the victim of a significant blow to the head that cost him his life. What could have happened at this idyllic priory and who among these monks could hold such disdain as to have killed one of their own? As they investigate, Gamache and Beauvoir also spend time alone, contemplating their lives. The tranquility is broken when Chief Superintendent Francoeur arrives, citing that he has the forensic reports for their perusal. While some might welcome a superior, Gamache has a hard time holding his animosity in check, sure that this is the man responsible for leaking videos of that horrible terror attack to the public, thereby branding Gamache in a light he wished he could avoid. While Gamache discovers personal clashes amongst the monks, he comes to see that many have reason to want Frère Mathieu out of the way. With a killer in their midst and another wolf in sheep’s clothing poking around, Gamache cannot afford to make a mistake. All the while, his second-in-command is tested by holding back a significant secret from Gamache, one that could change the team’s dynamic forever. Penny may have kept Three Pines out of this story, but readers can still count on significant development in this mystery. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would strongly suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has never let the series turn into formulaic writing, always happy to offer up new twists and perspectives to her dedicated readers. Leaving the antics of Three Pines behind, Penny injects a new set of ‘villagers’ into this piece, as she isolated the Chief Inspector from the outside world. Gamache continues to wrestle with personal issues throughout the novel, partially related to the fallout of the aforementioned raid that cost many officers their lives. There is also a degree of introspection when it comes to personal faith and trust, though not of the religious type. Gamache has proven himself to be a well-grounded individual, but even his calm exterior cannot hide the fury and fear that rests below the surface. This contrasts nicely with revelations the reader discovers about Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, who struggles not only with his attempts to understand why anyone would want to choose a life in a priory, but also with a deep secret he is keeping from Gamache. Both sentiments eat away at him, creating some interesting character development and backstory for the reader to enjoy, chasing away the statuesque past this man has exhibited throughout the series. The handful of monks fill the gap left by the Three Pines residents, though one cannot completely replace the zany characteristics of the villagers. These men may have dedicated their lives to God and music, but their personal foibles cannot be entirely removed and find their way on the written page. Penny successfully paints them with their own unique attributes and keeps the story flowing well with their inclusion in the narrative. Penny uses strong themes of dedication, loss, and cohesiveness throughout to shape a narrative that keep the story’s momentum. Some bemoan that the series has gone stale or rogue, though I highly appreciate the twists Penny has utilised to keep the stories fresh and evolving. I am pleased to have found this series and continue to feel pleased with my choice to binge through the novels until I am caught up with many who have been praising this collection for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another unique piece. I kick myself for waiting this long to join the other fans, but cannot say enough about these pieces.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: