“They (Gregorian chants) had such a profound effect on those who sang and heard them that the ancient chants became known as “the beautiful mystery”.”
For hundreds of years the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups in northern Québec has been a refuge for a forgotten and thought extinct group of monks. Their existence became known when they released a collection of Gregorian chants of such extraordinary beauty that they captivated the world. But even after their songs became famous the brothers in the community managed to maintain both their isolated existence and their vows of silence. All of that changes when one of them, the prior and choirmaster, is murdered.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache travels to the secluded monastery with his trusted side-kick Jean-Guy Beauvoir and together they enter a world where songs are far more than something to enjoy listening to. Here music is a way of life, a form of prayer and the most meaningful thing in the brothers’ lives. But now the music that once united the order has become the source of strive and opposing opinions, leaving one man upset enough to commit the ultimate crime. It is up to the two investigators to uncover what caused the division in the order and who committed the murder.
But the monastery isn’t the only community under threat. The ongoing problem in Sûreté du Québec follows Gamache and Beauvoir to the remote monastery in the form of Superintendent Francoeur. And it appears that this time his efforts to undermine Gamache and divide his team may be successful.
Anybody who reads my reviews regularly knows I’m a huge fan of Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Her mysteries are always well plotted and beautifully written while her main character is the sort of person you would like to be your friend. Gamache is a compassionate soul with a huge sense of justice and great loyalty to those who are close to him, both loved ones and colleagues. He isn’t however a saint. He, like all of us, has weaknesses and strengths which make him all the more likeable as a character.
As always in Louise Penny’s books the setting is as much a character as the various humans are. When I started the book and realised that it isn’t set in Three Pines and doesn’t feature any of the inhabitants of that village I was afraid the story would end up disappointing me. I’m very relieved that I’m able to state that I was anything but disappointed. I wasn’t very far into the story before the monastery and the brothers who live there became as real to me as the regular characters in the previous titles are. Just as I’m able to vividly picture Three Pines and those who live there I found myself seeing the monastery and the brothers. And, much to my surprise, I could almost hear the chants described and understand the spell they weave.
This is the 8th title featuring Armand Gamache and although I would certainly advice anybody to read all of these books – simply because every single one of them is wonderful – it isn’t necessary to have read the previous titles in order to enjoy this one. There are some ongoing story-lines and references to earlier events but they are integrated in the story in such a way that they don’t interfere with the mystery in this book.
I really enjoyed coming across a Monty Python reference, especially since it was so very unexpected; it is true though, “No one does” expect the inquisition.
If I had to make one complaint about this book it would concern the ending. Although the mystery is solved in a very satisfactory way, the story does end on a bit of a cliff-hanger. I find myself more eager then ever to get my hands on the next book in this series to see how that particular story-line will develop and can only hope that it will be in a positive way.
This is a book for anyone who enjoys a well plotted mystery, featuring interesting characters, a fascinating subject and written in the most beautiful language.