And so we move away completely from the familiar characters and setting of the village of Three Pines, in Quebec near the Vermont border. Instead, we travel by plane and then boat with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir to northern Quebec, an almost inaccessible area of old-growth forest.
And an abbey. Where the prior has just been murdered. And the murderer can only be one of 24 monks, including the abbot.
Gamache is more than professionally intrigued. This is the abbey whose monks recorded Gregorian chants that became a worldwide sensation. What he will find is a battle for the soul of the abbey, not unlike the battle for the soul of his own police force, the Quebec Surete. To punctuate the similarity, soon Gamache and Beauvoir will be joined by Sylvain Francouer, the head of the Surete and Gamache’s boss, the man who will do anything to destroy Gamache.
Louise Penny creates one stunning story in The Beautiful Mystery, the eighth novel in the Inspector Gamache series (not counting the novella The Hangman). It is a novel of intrigue and betrayal, of the history of the Gregorian chant, of politics on the local level and politics on the global level. And it is a novel about a decent man, trying to root out the rot in his own police force, betrayed at every turn, and still managing to maintain his decency.
While the suspects represent a relatively small group, it is a group unlike any Gamache has previously encountered. The monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes Abbey have a history of fleeing persecution, and believed to have died out hundreds of years previously. Gamache must learn to read people while they simultaneously and accurately read him, interpret what they say and how they say it in new and unexpected ways, and most importantly find a killer.
Penny does a masterful job of simultaneously telling the mystery story and the police story. The police story extends from two prior novels, where Gamache lost several of his officers in an ambush and someone within the Surete leaked the video of what happened. And while has to battle his boss while trying to solve the murder, he knows that someone is pulling his boss’s chain.
The Beautiful Mystery is outstanding, even for Louise Penny. And that’s saying a lot.
Photograph: St. Benoit-du-lac Abbey in Quebec (not the same as the ficitional abbey in the story).