Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of "The Beautiful Mystery" [27]

by Louise Penny 
Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312655464
384 pages, August 28, 2012

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. 

I know that several of my readers are great fans of Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I, myself, have enjoyed several of Penny's previous books. They have an interesting settings and good characters, major and minor, not least of which is Chief Inspector Gamache and usually, good plots. So, when I saw the last in the series sitting on the new book shelf at the library, I was excited.

And shortly after I started it, I was disappointed. Very disappointed.
The problems are many, the positives, few, I am sad to say.
Where to even start?

The entire story take place in an isolated monastery..which we are to believe no one in the Church knew about until the CD, even though they trade with other monasteries in Canada, but that is another issue. The fact that the entire story take place in a monastery, and that except for the police, the monks are the only characters, makes it important that the author gets the basic matters of monastic life right. Which she does not.

Monks and priests are not the same thing..in fact, very few monks in a monastery would be priests, and I have never heard of an abbot of a monastery 'scouting' monks from other orders. Does he offer a signing bonus? Just silly. She calls the chapel of the monastery the Blessed Chapel, which makes no sense. Does she mean the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which does make sense? Every time she used the phrase...which is many, many times since you have to go through the chapel to go anywhere else in the monastery, which is also wrong...it just grated on my nerves. 
I am no expert..I took a course on monastic history in college that require spending a weekend at a Benedictine monastery, but I found so many mistakes I assume Penny just made this stuff up. If I could have corrected so many mistakes, it does not speak well for her research.

Oh, and then there is the Latin. Now again, I am no expert, but I did take 3 years of Latin in high school, enough to know that the several Latin phrases, phrases that are key to the plot, are badly mistranslated. 
Then, we have the idea that a devout monk would pull some sort of silly prank at the most sacred moment of the Mass, the consecration, to try and lure out the killer, which is totally offense. Well, honestly by then I was so bored with the overly long book and so mad at all the errors and all the repetitions that I really lost interest in who the killer was. His unveiling was just another disappointment. The reason..made little sense..."So he did it huh...OK." 

And then the are Gamache and Beauvior. 
If you are familiar with the series, you know that awhile ago they were both injured, emotionally and physically, in a police action that went bad. Well, that story will come back to haunt us again, causing Beauvior to act in a way that, without giving away a spoiler, is, just let us say, beyond believable. Not to mention that the ending leaves us hanging in a particularly unfair way, I think. 
Sadly, I could go on. 
And on. 
Yes, I was not a happy reader.

As I said, I have enjoyed others books in the series and hope maybe in the future, it can get back on track. This one seems totally phoned in. I really can't recommend it.


  1. Interesting. I wonder if other Penny fans will feel the same. I didn't like the only Penny book I tried, Brutal Telling, but others loved it, so I probably wouldn't like this one for sure!

    1. looking at reviews, I am not the only one to notice, by any means. She was not my favorite author before..not really sure why...but between the issues with this book, not to mention it rather anti-Catholic tone..I will not be seeking any other out soon.

  2. i finished this book and was so upset .. having to wait for the next book is torture .. i so ache for Gramache

  3. It's hard to read a book when you notice mistakes like that. How disappointing!

  4. I've heard so many wonderful things about this author's work so I'm really disappointed to see this one's a stinker. I'll have to start with another one of her books.

    1. personally, i thought the first two were the best.

  5. I loved all of Penny's previous Gamache novels, and have just begun reading this one. I have heard from MANY people that it is a dud, but I have to see for myself. After reading your analysis of where she goes wrong I don't have much confidence that this will turn out well. Hopefully the next one will get back on track.

    1. I must say I was disappointed...an author needs to do their homework, or honestly, I feel cheated.


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