No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”
But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.
The eighth book in the Inspector Gamache mystery series, The Beautiful Mystery(★★★★) didn't captivate me until about 3/4 of the way through. Obviously, it was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I found the mystery uninteresting and a bit redundant, as if Penny was padding the book with mystery until she could get to the real point of the novel: the long, slow dissolution of Gamache and Beauvoir's working and personal relationship.
I wish I'd picked up the first book in this series instead of the eighth, because it is just the type of series I enjoy. Penny is an amazing writer, with an ear for dialogue and a deft ability with descriptions. But, where she really shines is her characters. Though I started with the eighth book, it didn't take me long to get a feel for these characters and the rich history they shared. It's obvious Penny has been building to this point for a while. I'm torn between despondency and excitement at having seven books to catch up on, with excitement slightly out front. It's nice to know such a rich, well realized world and characters are waiting for me, I'm just not sure when I'll get a chance to visit.