Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery

Louise Penny, the award-winning author of novels set in rural Quebec, is one of the leading mystery novelists today. A former journalist and radio host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Penny specialized in “hard news and current affairs.” (See her website for more information about her life and works.) Like so many novelists who begin their careers as journalists, Penny has an eye for significant detail and talent with the written word.

Penny focuses on the quiet countryside and its overlooked wonders (see my blog on The Murder Stone). Many of her novels are situated in Three Pines, a charming out-of-the-way village in Quebec (see my blog on The Cruellest Month). The Beautiful Mystery is set in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a remote cloister hidden deep within the wilderness of Quebec. The landscape is breathtaking and the monastery, awe-inspiring.

In The Beautiful Mystery, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec are called in to investigate the startling murder of one of the monastery monks. In this place of deep peace, solemn prayer, and divine Gregorian chants, a killer lurks. The monks know that one of them is the murderer. It is up to Gamache and Beauvoir to dig beneath the placid surface of the monastery to solve this locked-room mystery.

Armand Gamache, the head of the elite Quebec police force, is unique among fictional detectives. He is a deeply reflective and humane character, one who is guided by feelings and intuition. Gamache works as a kind of detective-psychologist, probing into the hidden recesses of his suspects’ minds and hearts. All of the characters in this novel are depicted with penetrating insight and compassion.

As Marilyn Stasio observes, “Penny writes with grace and intelligence about complex people struggling with complex emotions. But her great gift is her uncanny ability to describe what might seem indescribable — the play of light, the sound of celestial music, a quiet sense of peace.” Her voice of wisdom distinguishes her writing; Penny’s narratives resound with a sense of profundity and significance. In this novel, she probes spiritual mysteries as well as the murder mystery. Readers will not want to rush through the story but rather savor its insights.

Some books come alive when a talented storyteller reads them. The Beautiful Mystery narrated by Ralph Cosham is definitely one of them. Readers who enjoy gradually enfolding, beautifully written, character-driven mysteries will lose themselves in The Beautiful Mystery.

Penny, Louise. The Beautiful Mystery. New York: Minotaur Books, 2012.