The Beautiful Mystery, Part 1


I asked to enter into a discussion of The Beautiful Mystery because reading the Acknowledgments and the Prologue hooked me before ever opening Chapter One.

I’m a lifelong operaphile, starting at age 13 when a friend took me to see Renata Tebaldi singing in La Traviata at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Tebaldi was a robust woman, decked in a gorgeous dress featuring real camellias, so the idea that she grows increasing frail and dies of consumption reeked of miscasting—except that her voice was glorious, passionate, convincing, the music moving, so in the end I accepted Violetta’s fate. Music made me believe, music was the passport to Verdi’s story, into a world where its logic, if you can call it that, ruled.

I’ve chased operas all over the world for 60 years now, and every performance produces the same immersion experience. And I’ve learned that opera grew out of church music, from the simple beginning, chants such as those sung by the monks of the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, to more complex performances. As I’ve grown older I travel back from the complexities of Puccini to the operas of Monteverdi, then Cavalli, and back farther into the rediscovered music of Hildegard of Bingen.

You can make a little of this journey by listening to a transitional stage from chant to opera in the “The Play of Daniel.” And read medievalist Priscilla Royal’s mystery The Valley of Dry Bones inspired by this play. Its performance requires more of the singers than does chant since it is liturgical drama based on the biblical Book of Daniel accompanied by monophonic music. One of two surviving versions is found in a 13th-century manuscript containing ten liturgical dramas. Recordings exist, as they do of what it is imagined Hildegard’s music was.

However, as Louise writes in the Prologue:

“. . . no one knew what the original chants sounded like. There was no written record of the earliest chants. They were so old, more than a millennium, that they predated written music. They were learned by heart . . . there was power in [their] very simplicity. They first chants were soothing, contemplative, magnetic. They had such a profound effect on those who sang and heard them that the ancient chants became known as ‘The Beautiful Mystery.’ The monks believed they were singing the word of God. . . .

“Gregorian chant was the father of western music. But it was eventually killed by its ungrateful children. Buried. Lost and forgotten. Until the early 1800s. . . ”

Controversy raged over what might be genuine Gregorian chant as resurrected. But no one knew for sure, for there was no starting point, no benchmark against which to compare. So The Beautiful Mystery remains one still. . . . And lies at the heart of this novel where the choir director of the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, secluded in Québec’s wilderness, is murdered.

Louise writes in the Acknowledgments that she too has a fascination with music “and a very personal and baffling relationship with it.” Like me, she finds it transformative and acknowledges neuroscience that links music with brain function. I’m sure I’ve read that studying is enhanced by listening to baroque music, its harmonies and rhythms inducing better concentration. Certainly this works for me. When my husband turns up jazz at the other end of the house, I get jangled when I hear it, feel edgy. Various mystery writers I know, notably Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, and Peter Robinson, have discussed with me and with readers how they listen to jazz when writing; So too does John Harvey. So their brains react differently than mine, and no doubt to each other’s, when music is playing. And informs their writing.

The other fascination I have with The Beautiful Mystery is its structure, a marvelous adaptation of a classic form: the country house murder.

What do I mean when I talk about the geometry of crime fiction? There are more or less four shapes. The closed circle wherein all the suspects dwell and the detective is either on the spot at the outset or brought within it. The thriller where the circle opens out into a path or road down which the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) chase each other. The megaphone shape of novels of suspense that build from a small beginning to a crescendo, much like Wagner’s Liebestod if you listen to it. And finally, the caper, where the lines of the circle, the road, or the megaphone fragment into pieces that end up fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle if the caper is successfully designed. (Appositely “transformation geometry” can be applied to music). I have had some fascinating discussions on this topic with Professor B. J. Rahn of Hunter College and others at Malice Domestic, and with a number of British crime writers.

The village mystery, the country house murder, the murder taking place in a theater or on a ship or, as in a memorable Nero Wolfe novel, inside a banquet room, takes the closed circle shape. The victim and some number of suspects are gathered together; ingress or egress from the circle is limited (maybe a blizzard engulfs a house, or the ship is at sea); and a sleuth whether an amateur with special skills or a policeman or a consulting detective is introduced. Some of the suspects have secrets, some may have none, or as in Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a classic closed circle, everyone but the sleuth shares one big one. Alibis, red herrings abound. And often if the plot is diabolically clever, it takes a second murder or more to expose the culprit(s).

I bore you with this because I am so impressed with the way Louise has used this traditional form in her work, especially in The Beautiful Mystery. The community of monks is limited in size. 24 men. It’s cloistered, closed to outsiders. It’s in the wilderness, limiting access and departure; a stranger could not hide. The monks have taken a vow of silence, although they are allowed to sing. When their choir director is murdered, there is thus a very limited circle of suspects and in this religious community, to suspect anyone is almost unthinkable.

The detectives, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir, arrive by boat with the local agent, Captain Charbonneau. They are admitted. And locked in. And must rely on traditional detecting tools, observations, interviews, intuition, to guide them. They are on their own, although they text the outside world. And attune themselves to the failings, the passions, the pride and the regrets of the monks, the cracks in that circle where the modern world seeps in.

This is actually thrilling stuff, captivating, puzzling, heart wrenching. Louse has a gift for actions arising out of character rather than the characters serving the demands of the plot. The result is an always unpredictable journey for the reader, a voyage of discovery undertaken with Gamache. Plus here, as I’ve said, she sets the stage for future stories even though we don’t see it at the time but only when we’ve read future books.

One of the joys of deep reading of mystery, of learning its conventions and tropes and gaining familiarity with landmark books, is being able to admire the skill with which an author takes the familiar and does something new, something unexpected, something complex yet fundamentally simple, something at once familiar and fresh. You can read The Beautiful Mystery with joy without knowing anything about crime fiction geometry, but it’s a richer experience to see someone engage the levers and give readers an extraordinary reading experience, carrying them out of their world into one like the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups. And Three Pines.

Recap (Prologue and Chapters 1-17)

My Introduction is so long I’m making this short. We begin by talking about music, The Beautiful Mystery, and glimpse its history in the Prologue. In Chapter One we move to the modern story where we get a scene in the monastery and meet Dom Philippe. Then we view Armand Gamache’s daughter Annie with her lover, his second in command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who gets the summons to join Gamache as the Scene of the Crime Team sent to the monastery. They will pick up a local agent of the Sûreté when they arrive. My favorite quote in the first chapters of the book ends Chapter One. It is so perfect for this story.

Chapter Two allows us to explore the Québec wilderness as the Scene Team travels by boat through rough country to the isolated community. Then we explore the monastery and enjoy a gradual introduction, an immersion, meeting the monks. A joy of this book is its leisurely pace, free of hurry-up pressures from the outside world despite the texting to and fro.

Gamache and Beauvoir observe and interview the monks, none of whom claims to have a clue as to who killed Mathieu. The abbot says, in Chapter Nine, “I actually believed I could look at them just now and tell. That there’d be something different about him. That I’d just know.” Is this naiveté, or is this someone so free of sin himself he truly believes that mortal sin wears a visible face? Our detectives know better. . . .

Gamache asks the abbot, “Who could have done this, mon père?” And the abbot replies, “I don’t know. I should know, but I don’t.” If the leader of the community is so in the dark, cannot see the wolf in his fold, how will two policemen succeed when they have little to work with except their own observations and hearts? (I refer you again to my quote from Matthew10:36).

Eventually, in Chapter Sixteen, Gamache stands in the garden, the scene of the murder, 24 hours after it has occurred. He stands there with the abbot and he imagines himself in the mind of the killer, and he also wonders if Mathieu had sensed he would be murdered. It had taken him a little time to die, a time when he crawled away from the abbey, towards the dark, away from the light. Animal instinct? Or was Mathieu making some kind of statement?

And then comes Chapter Seventeen and a game changer: the arrival of Sylvain Francoeur, the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, dropping from the sky not on wings but via a plane. The dynamics change. And our chapter ends with Gamache thinking about Saint Gilbert, praying to him. And asking himself, “if it was ever right to kill one for the sake of many?” Is he referring to the murder at the monastery, or to something relating to his superior?

In Chapter One we saw how the relationship between Gamache’s daughter Annie and his second, Jean-Guy, had developed. As we move along they are now apart, communicating by text, their own closed circle broken. This is a major thread to follow as the story unfolds. What signals are there to this point about how it will go for them?

Favorite Quote

Anne Daphné Gamache, Matthew 10:36
“And a man’s foes, shall they be of his own household?”

Discussion Questions

1. In her Acknowledgments, Louise mentions the neuroscience of music, its effect on her creativity, its effects on our brains. How does listening to music—and what music you listen to—affect you?

2. Would you read—or reread—The Beautiful Mystery while listening to, or after listening to, Gregorian chant? (There’s a surprising amount recorded.) Would you expect to alter your reading experience by doing so?

3. Chief Inspector Gamache’s writ runs to the whole province. Do the books taking him (and other characters) to new corners of Québec enrich your enjoyment or are you happiest when the story focuses on Three Pines? If so, why?

4. Do you find the closed-circle concept works for you when thinking about the structure of the mystery in this book? In any of the others? What challenges does this geometry set the author?

5. The monastery is a cloistered community of 24 men. One of them must be the killer. Did you start asking yourself which of them as you read Chapters 1-17? In other words, are you a reader who likes to solve the mystery or do you prefer to wait for the revelation?

6. Depending on how you answered that, do you read other authors’ mysteries differently?

7. If you have read the books in order as Louise wrote them, by now you know that she plants seeds for future plots. As you read Chapters 1-17 were you struck by anything that might carry forward into a future book?

Barbara PetersBarbara Peters holds a BA from Stanford University, MA from Northwestern University, MSLS from the University of Tennessee. After careers at the Library of Congress and in law, she moved to Arizona and founded The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in 1989—for fun. It is run as a non-profit. In 1997 she and her husband Robert L. Rosenwald founded Poisoned Pen Press, an independent publisher of mystery with over 600 books in print. Barbara was nominated for a 1998 Edgar Allan Poe Award, has received the Mystery Writers of America's Raven Award (bookselling) and Ellery Queen Award (editing), has earned a dozen nominations as Bookseller of the Year, and a 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award / Million Dollar Club from the Arizona Republic. The Poisoned Pen has frequently been named Best Bookstore in Phoenix and in Scottsdale by the Arizona Republic and New Times.

Discussion on “The Beautiful Mystery, Part 1

  1. Robin Agnew says:

    What a wonderful opening essay, Barbara, especially the part about mystery “shapes” – I love that concept and had never thought of it in quite that way before. When I first read this one I thought “Oh, it’s the locked room mystery” – but your closed circle is a far better analogy.

    • KB says:

      I appreciated the synopsis on mystery structure. I must confess that up to now, I have read without analyzing structure. Thanks.

      • Julie says:

        I read without analyzing, too, KB. I have certainly heard of the “locked room” mystery, but have always kind of taken that literally – that the real mystery was how did the murderer get out of the room and lock it from inside. Hercule Poirot is especially good at figuring these things out. But the closed circle as a style makes so much sense. In fact, all the styles or types of mystery that Barbara mentioned make a lot of sense to me and seem to be very comprehensive.

    • Ruth says:

      I thought of it as a “locked room mystery,” too, and I also liked the “closed circle” description better. I must say that in this book the setting and the locked aspect of the monastery gave me an ominous feeling from the boat journey onward. That feeling intensified when they went into the monastery and continued to increase throughout the book. Perhaps for that reason alone, I found this book the darkest of Louise’s mysteries while at the same time imagining at beautiful light coming into the monastery through the windows.

  2. Julie says:

    Welcome, Barbara. What a thoughtful and intriguing essay you’ve written for us. I have never understood music, though I love it. I’m amazed even by those people who can hear the opening notes of something and know what it will be. I’m tone deaf, I think, so all music is a “beautiful mystery” to me. I love it, it moves me, but I am content to think of it all as a complete mystery! I loved your geometric designs for the different kinds of mystery stories, and recognized them in your description, though I’d never have arrived at them myself, math being another mystery. I am always amazed that music and mathematics are so similar. I’m clearly not a “linear thinker”. I was intrigued at how jazz affects you as opposed to other writers, and wondered if it wasn’t that it affects you all the same, but some like that feeling and you, and others, don’t? That “on edge” feeling is one that I like – and I find it makes me more productive.

    I love your favorite quote – it has shown up in several other books, but is more apt here than anywhere else, I think!

    • KB says:

      I have to confess that, while I don’t actually listen to chant while reading “The Beautiful Mystery”, I can hear it very well throughout the book. Particularly, I can hear it echo as if in a stone church with a high ceiling. Chant and symbolism highlights the sense of awe and mystery in religion.

      • Julie says:

        I could “hear” the chants, too, as I read. The monastery itself seemed such a wonderful place – the way the light bounced around the general hall, and the secret room, the private garden of the Abbé. The monks seemed to be “just men” – with all the regular faults and complaints, until they chanted. During chant, the place and the men were transformed, and I could hear the plaintive chants throughout.

  3. Tammy says:

    First, thank you for the opening essay. It was a delight to read.
    In response to question 3, I like how even when events take place outside 3 Pines, there is something that connects back. Everything connects, like fragile hidden threads that must be followed with care. This is also why (in response to question 7) I like to read books of a series in the order they were written. I’ve entered a series from the middle before and felt that I was missing out on a piece of the puzzle, as though there was a thread to be followed but it was leading backwards towards an earlier book rather than forwards to the next. At the same time, I also like to stop and re-read from the beginning, with the perspective gained from the later books informing me better about the events of the earlier ones. Of course, with me, a good book will be re-read again and again, regardless of where it falls in a series.

    • Susan says:

      I so agree with you…I like to read books in order, even though these books could stand alone, the emotional impact when you reread them in order is riveting. I also agree that a truly good book can be read over and over. On rereading this series, I picked up nuances and foreshadowing of things to come, which made me appreciate our favorite author’s skill even more. Off to reread A Beautiful Mystery…counting down to 8/26!

  4. Kay Tindel says:

    #2. I would like to listen to the chants and also see how it might change the book. However, I was too engrossed in the book to stop and find some to listen to while I was reading! I loved the idea of the monks recording the chants and how that part of the world had come in and changed them. I also remember when some recorded chants became the rage, and the book made me thing about how that exposure might have changed the world, the listeners and perhaps the real monks who made the recording. good stuff.

  5. Kathy Bradley says:

    3. I have now read (or listened) to all of the Gamache Series and The Beautiful Mystery and a Rule Against Murder are among my favorites, so I cannot say I prefer for them to stay in Three Pines. I listened to the audio book of The Beautiful Mystery, and before a word was spoken, the recording opened with a Gregorian chant that left me wanting more music than that little teaser gave. I admit I kept bookmarking my place and listening to the opening chant over and over. I loved it and the book. I enjoy when the books take the team outside of Three Pines because it allows Louise Penny to seamlessly expand the history and culture lessons which she expertly weaves into every book.

    Does Louise Penney every come to Scottsdale for book signings????

    • KB says:

      Having some of the books in the series set outside of Three Pines gives me a chance to miss the Three Pines characters. Three Pines is like a second home. We don’t need the full meal deal to describe setting and ambience so we can jump right in. But, I’ve enjoyed the development of Peter and Clara’s relationship through “The Murder Stone”, the insight into Gamache through “Bury Your Dead” and the relationship between Gamache, Beauvoir and Francoeur in “The Beautiful Mystery”. These are aspects which could not be dealt with in the same way if we were in Three Pines.

      • Julie says:

        I really like having the books in other settings. While I love, love, LOVE Three Pines, by going out to other areas we are able to see more of the Quebec landscape the people live within. Both the actual landscape and the cultural background are important. The north woods setting is so like where I grew up that it has seemed like coming home. One of my favorite scenes is when Beauvoir joins the monk (all the names are mixed up in my head right now, so he shall just be “the monk”) to pick blueberries, and by the time they are finished talking, there are no blueberries left in their basket! I remember picking wild blueberries on hot August days, and tiny wild strawberries (whose sweetness can’t be duplicated with the large, almost tasteless things they sell in the stores) in June. The Gooseberries and Saskatoons – Raspberries, Blackberries – so many wonderful things all free and wild in the countryside, seeming to wait for my family to come and pick them. We children were outfitted with a pail on a string around our necks (really just a jam can), and we were not to stop until we’d filled our pails. A few might have made it to our mouths without stopping in the pail at all, and a few more were snuck out on our way home. Did anything taste as wonderful as those berries still warm from the sun?

    • Jody Hamilton says:

      Kathy, I just checked Louise’s website for upcoming tour dates and this is what I found:

      1 Sep Monday, 5pm – PHOENIX, AZ – Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater, #101 / Scottsdale

      • Julie says:

        She’s coming to the Seattle area on August 31st. I can hardly wait!

        • Ruth says:

          Be sure to go if you can. I went to one of her appearances last year and it was such fun. I found myself thinking and talking about it for a long time afterward. She’s a fabulous speaker and it feels like you are having a personal conversation.

        • Kathy Bradley says:

          Wow, heat shock going from Seattle one day to Scottsdale the next!

          • Julie says:

            Let’s hope so. Right now, there would be no heat shock – we’re in one of our heat waves, with temperatures in the 90’s. I’m sure it’s a little hotter in Arizona, but not as much as you’d think. I hate the heat, so am certainly hoping that by the end of August, we’ll be back to normal.

      • Kathy Bradley says:

        I did too! Thanks.

    • Ann says:

      After the first few books, I was glad to “leave” Three Pines for a while — mainly because a town like that seems too tiny to sustain so many dead bodies! I was privileged to read an advance copy of “Long Way Home” — best so far, imho, because in continues weaving the threads of our Three Pines friends into a much broader world.

  6. Susan Boiko says:

    If you look back in all the Gamache books, music is mentioned or occurs mostly in the background or in the context of attending or discussing a performance. In this book it comes to the forefront. My daughters have performed music since early childhood and one is a composer so the passions, jealousies and delights of music composition and performance are familiar to me in a larger picture but the jigsaw puzzle of the elements of these emotions reflected in the monastery setting that Louise Penny puts together don’t always align the way I thought they might. In a roundabout way I am answering your question, do I as a reader try to figure out the guilty party? Yes, but the image keep changing as new pieces are added.

  7. Lizzy says:

    I too, was fascinated Barbara by your opening. I never thought of mysteries in that way! If I’m ever in Arizona I will make it to your bookstore!

    Music can affect me deeply. It can energize me to clean house, it can relax me, it can stimulate my creativity. It can cause me to weep with its beauty and some music can annoy me to no end. My parents only had classical music in the house. I experienced La Traviata as my first opera I saw it on tv and was entranced!

  8. Lizzy says:

    #2. I listened to some chants after my first reading of this book. Second time around, I wanted to, but got too caught up in the reading. However they were playing in the background of my mind!

    • Michele says:

      As a girl, I sang the chants in the choir, both before and after the switch from Latin. Like other people’s memories of opera, chants are memories of my childhood. I did listen to chants while rereading the book; it did add another layer to the experience.

      • Thérèse says:

        I, too, sang chants in our tiny, humble choir when I was a child, and mostly in Latin before Vatican II changed things around. I have always loved the Gregorian chants and if I’m stressed, they are guaranteed to calm me…especially when I’m driving a long way in crazy traffic! So soothing….

  9. Julie says:

    1. In her Acknowledgments, Louise mentions the neuroscience of music, its effect on her creativity, its effects on our brains. How does listening to music—and what music you listen to—affect you?

    I mostly listen to the music of my youth – classic rock and roll. It makes me happy, even the sad songs – very comforting. I love opera, but can’t just listen to the music – I need the whole spectacle, so I love to go to the opera, but don’t listen to it at home. I did go and find some Gregorian chants to listen to, so I’d know what they sounded like, when I first read The Beautiful Mystery. I really liked them – they made me feel calm and stress-free. I could see listening to them when I have to do a tedious chore and having them bring me to a serenity I seldom feel when doing that kind of work. But to do a job I really don’t like – give me the Rolling Stones any day of the week!

    One thing I loved about this book was the way that Gamache was so present in their circumstances. It made me realize that he does this always – he really listens and makes people feel like they are the only ones in the world, when he talks with them. But his talent is also to not just take on the grisly aspects of the murder, but to find something wonderful and beautiful even when the unthinkable has happened. He can, at least during the chants, put the problems aside and just “be in the moment”. He appreciates the chants and begins to feel the bliss that the monks obviously feel when they chant. He needs to do these things to truly understand, but he is also able to gain something for himself. I’m sure these things are the way he is able to continue to do his job without going insane.

    Sometimes I think that Beauvoir’s inability to do this is part of his downfall – why he feels every stress so deeply and cannot shake some of the negativity that surrounds them.

    • KB says:

      I don’t believe that I could actually listen to chants while reading. I can have certain “routine” (radio) music playing in the background while reading, writing, studying as “white noise”. It drowns out the distraction of the fridge cycling on, or the dishwasher changing cycles. I have not been able to use Baroque music in this manner because it causes me to stop and listen for the counterpoint and phrasing. The same for most “classical” music. I become too involved in actively listening to the music to be able to appreciate and understand the words.

      • KB says:

        What music do I listen to? What music affects me? I listen to Glenn Gould’s Bach, Brahms’ symphonies and piano works, “popular” classical, Nikki Yanofsky jazz, radio top 40 and oldies, country, Natalie McMaster….. Different pieces/songs remind me of “where I was when”. Others inspire goofiness or thoughtfulness.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      Julie, I loved your comments about Gamache. These are the things that make him so loveable. He is a great contrast to Beauvoir, which is no doubt why they make such a great team. Beauvoir is so complex – he has a lot of negativity of his own, which adds a lot to his stress level. And certainly the arrival of Francoeur is not going to help any! The characters are so special in these books and I love to learn more and more about them.

  10. Amanda says:

    As a middle school teacher, I often employ music as one of my classroom tools. Not only does it help me to focus and remain calm in a world of constant activity and chaos, but the students ask for it. After reading this book I played Gregorian chants during times of focused activity in the classroom. The reaction was incredible and while some students found it odd and slightly uncomfortable at first, for most it had a calming effect. It was a pleasant surprise for us all and I’m so glad I was able to share the experience with them.

    In response to question 5, I am always looking for clues and hints that will give away who the murderer is. I love to solve the mystery. That is why I love Louise’s books so much-anyone could be guilty, everyone is capable of murder. She has clearly illustrated that point time and again by examining the emotion behind the events in her stories. She invites her readers to identify with a character who then may end up being the guilty one! You just never know what will happen, and I love that she keeps us guessing until the very end.

  11. Lizzy says:

    #3 I’m happiest reading any Gamache book! I do enjoy the trips outside of Three Pines. This one was very different as we did not hear or see any of the residents from Three Pines.

  12. Julie says:

    I am used to figuring out whodunnit when I read mysteries and at first, this is how I approached the Louise Penny books. But I soon learned that these are such great character studies that THIS is where my focus lies and I forget all about solving the mystery and let Gamache et al do that. Which is a good thing, because not only is it hard to figure out – I can’t even remember when I do the re-reads. It soon becomes the least important part of the book to me, and the growing relationships and character studies take over. I know all about the personal history of the main characters, and can’t remember at all who dealt the death blow or why.

    • Lizzy says:

      That’s so true , Julie!

    • Linda says:

      I agree. I was surprised when I re-read the books that most of the time I couldn’t remember who the murderer was. To me, the books are not about murder but about the wonderful cast of characters.

    • KB says:

      I agree too. Sometimes I can remember whodunit….like with the real murderer of the hermit, because it was just too sad for the son to have killed the father and so ironic that by trying to take revenge against his father’s killer, he became his father’s killer…. but on others I forget. The characters and feelings are paramount in this series. Whodunit is secondary.

    • Ruth says:

      Another “ditto” from me.

      • Meg R says:


        But first, Barbara, thanks for the “geometric forms of crime fiction”! Unconsciously aware of these, but never had the labels for them! Yours very clearly clarify the four types! Saw from your ‘vita’ section that you’re from Phoenix area. Hope you didn’t get swallowed up in that humongous sandstorm cloud that passed over the city this weekend!

        *Factoid #1 – Read in yesterday’s paper about the retirement of one of the principal dancers in the Pittsburgh Ballet. Saw a name that I first heard of in Mrs. Penny’s books! Never heard of “Gamache” before this series, and was surprised to find listed in the dancer’s past roles that of a Gamache who was a silly fop in the Don Quixote ballet! Just coincidental that I read of two such disparate Gamaches in one day!

        *Factoid #2. – The Gilbertines. Never heard of this order before and wasn’t sure if it was real or just a fictional creation, – so I googled it! Evidently there was an order founded by a St. Gilbert – much of the history similar to what Louise includes in this novel. But! I was surprised to discover that that original St. Gilbert was much more catholic (yup, with a small ‘c’) than others of his time. That Gilbert admitted women into his order – both as nuns and as religious lay women! Think that fact impressed me more than anything else about him.

        *Say AMEN #1 – Yes, ladies, I agree with all of you about focusing on what happens to our core characters rather than on whodunit! I’ve found our 3 Piners, Surete members and Gamache extended family of much more interest than who actually committed the murders. Because I care about them more, I reluctantly am able to overlook impausibility of Ollie and Old Mudlin doing the deeds. Three Pineites, Surete members and the Gamache gang (blood related or unofficially adopted) are the ones we’ve invested in and followed for eight books now. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter to me who killed the prior in this one. Of more concern is what the heck that slimeball “Sylvian” Francoeur is up to!

        • Sylvia H. says:

          Oh, I couldn’t agree more! One thing for sure, we know he’s up to no good! He could be called many things, but “slimeball” will do quite nicely for now!

        • Margaret Howland says:

          Thanks, Meg, for that great information on the St. Gilbert. What a man! And thanks, everyone, from Barbara Peters (whom I might call St. Barbara Peters, so important is she to the mystery world!) to all the readers commenting. This is a wonderful group.

          I am delighted to learn that when I am rereading these books (and oh, what a brilliant idea this was) and don’t remember “who dunnit,” I am not alone. I just finished “How the Light Gets In” yesterday and was astonished at how much of it I’d forgotten. I get so much more out of rereading. Louise’s books are deeply rewarding, as the reader has time on a reread to realize the multiple levels of plot and character.

          Gregorian chant recordings are widely available on the web, as I discovered when I went looking. They remind me first of my childhood in a traditional Catholic Church, and create such an aura of the monastery.
          I didn’t play them while reading the book — I’m not much of a background music person.

          I did think about who might have done the murder, and prefer to analyze why it might be this person or that one, and in this case I was saddened by the answer. That approach doesn’t change much for me in reading other authors’ work, except that I prefer that the culprit be introduced relatively early in the book — I stopped reading one famous author who produced a surprise villain out of the blue on page 400 or so.

          Did you all think of this book as a “closed circle” or “country house mystery” from the start? I didn’t, perhaps because the setting is so unusual and I had been so looking forward to this book, having read about Louise spending some time at a monastery. I have been reading mysteries for 60+ years but I am not very analytical unless I am leading a discussion about the book. Thanks, Barbara, for so nicely outlining the various forms of mystery fiction. I’ve read a lot of books on mystery fiction and this is the best analysis.

          Do I spot “teasers” in Louise’s books that might be pursued in future books? Sure! At least, I hope they will be pursued.

          Tonight Louise is appearing at the wonderful Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, a place worthy of a stop should you ever find yourself in the state. I’ll be there. Oh frabjous joy!

        • Julie says:

          Francoeur! Oh, how I hated seeing him arrive and do his dirty work! The rest of this story and all the next one seem to be the natural outcropping of his dropping from the sky here! How I hated reading, again, of all his dastardly deeds! Okay, hated/loved! At times, though, it does seem so painful and to be happening to people we really know and love. Still – we couldn’t come out the other side without going through this, so I guess I will just have to suck it up, hahaha.

    • Saundra Hopkins says:

      I agree. The characters and the humour-make these books my favorite mysteries.

      • Sylvia H. says:

        Yes, there are so many wonderful moments when I just burst out laughing! Louise Penny has a beautiful sense of humour!

  13. Lizzy says:

    #4. It worked for me. I think it’d be more difficult as an author to write a closed mystery.

    #5 I love trying to solve a mystery! Many times I guess who did it, but I won’t know the why! I also enjoy not guessing the murderer right away. It’s more enjoyable that way.

  14. Lizzy says:

    #7. I have to read them in order. I did read them in order I love seeing all the little building blocks and how the characters develop. It makes the reading much richer that way.

    • Julie says:

      I agree, Lizzy – I read them in order, too, and think it added a lot to get the whole story unfolding before me in some logical order. One thing I’ve really noticed in my third re-read is that VERY often, the title of a later book is used in the text of the book somewhere. Just now reading A Fatal Grace and Gamache has pulled Nichol aside and advised her to “Bury Your Dead”… I know that “How the Light Gets In” was in Still Life, and I know there were more, but now, of course, I can’t remember what they were. The detail is so rich – there are clues everywhere, and every time I look, I see more.

      • Ruth says:

        I had forgotten about the future titles appearing in earlier books. Thanks for pointing this out. I need to be more observant!

  15. Flora Church says:

    The Beautiful Mystery is my favorite book in the series, after How the Light Gets In. While Three Pines is practically a character in its own right, it is Gamache and all the other characters who draw me back to this series–so I don’t care where they go. I want to say that I felt the power of the beautiful mystery of the music as I read this book–a testament to Louise Penny’s ability as a writer. I didn’t turn on or seek out any actual Gregorian chants. The book took me someplace isolated and quiet–someplace where I could probe my own wounds much as Armand and Jean-Guy do–the questions Louise poses about the human character and soul in the course of her mysteries–especially this one–cause me to reflect on my own experiences in life–not murder, of course, but the living of a life.

    And yes, I do try to solve each mystery, and I’m aware of those signposts that tell us which road the characters will be traveling as each new book is woven into the tapestry that is the world of Gamache. I nearly wept at the end of this one.

    • I was overwhelmed by The Beautiful Mystery. I did weep at the end of the books. It was heartbreaking.

      • Sylvia H. says:

        Me too! Actually, I have cried at the end of others of her books too. But we”ll talk about it more later.

    • Julie says:

      When I finished A Beautiful Mystery, it was my favorite, but then, How the Light Gets In came along, and it was my favorite. I feel that Louise is become a more masterful story-teller with each new book, and the story is so powerful! I have ants in my pants waiting for The Long Way Home!

      • Judy S. says:

        Julie, I agree that Louise’s writing and plotting get even more powerful as the series continues. I have such mixed feelings about reading The Long Way home since, after a summer of swimming through all of Louise’s books, we will hit a shoreline – instead of happily proceeding to the next “chapter” in the story, we’ll have to wait another year for the next one!

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