Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels are becoming more cerebral, dark, and tragic. That may seem hard to believe. They were dark enough already.

These novels are not separate stories. They are each an episode in a single story yet to be resolved.

In The Beautiful Mystery, Gamache and his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir investigate a single murder in a cloistered monastery. The monks are Gilbertines, an order thought to no longer exist. The remnant managed to move to Quebec. There they hid from the Vatican and the Inquisition for centuries. They built a magnificent cross-shaped cloister with their own hands.

The Gilbertines have preserved a particularly beautiful form of Gregorian plain chant. Some call their singing The Beautiful Mystery, the voice of God.

And therein is the problem. The monks made a world-famous recording. Their fame  (and the wealth that came with it) are tearing the group apart.

Gamache and Beauvoir bring their own history into the monastery. Gamache’s arrest of a corrupt up-and-coming superior, Gamache’s tragic role in a shootout which led to the death of four of his colleagues, and even Gamache’s less serious (but still tragic) mistake in convicting a wrong man--all those follow him into the monastery.

So does Beauvoir’s love for Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s fragile recovery from addiction. Then their superior, the embodiment of evil, arrives on the scene.

It is impossible to describe the depth of evil in this story. Except for the murder, all the evil is seemingly understated, not explicit at all. It is the most insidious kind of evil. This story makes that clear.

At one point Penny writes, “[Gamache] sat up in bed. He knew only two things could give a killer a good night’s sleep. If he had no conscience. Or if he had a conscience, and that conscience had been an accomplice. Whispering to the killer, giving him the idea.

“How could a man, a monk, convince himself that murder wasn’t a crime, and wasn’t even a sin? How could he be asleep, while the Chief Inspector was awake? There was only one answer. If this was a justified death.

“An Old Testament death.

“By stoning.

“An eye for an eye.

“Perhaps the murderer had believed he was doing the right thing. If not in the eyes of man, then in the eyes of God.”

There are two kinds of evil in this story. Evil done for religious reasons, and unadulterated, unapologetic evil of the sort practiced by Gamache’s superior. Both kinds of evil kill and destroy.

At the end of the story, Chief Inspector Gamache is isolated. Except for his wife (and maybe his family), he is left alone to face what surely seems to be the coming battle.

It is hard to see a non-tragic outcome for the next book in the series.

There’s no telling what will happen next. Whatever it is, for it to be good will require superhuman courage from Chief Inspector Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and all who love them.

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