The Beautiful Mystery, Part 2


I had some opportunity while in Santa Fe pursuing opera this week to read some of the comments posted on The Beautiful Mystery, Part 1.

To address one, Louise has signed each year at The Poisoned Pen since arriving in 2009 with A Rule against Murder. On Labor Day, 2012, we webcast the discussion between Louise and me for The Beautiful Mystery. As it was part of her book tour it has no spoilers and you can watch it before reading on, or at any time. Watch here »

Bonus: on Labor Day, 2013, we webcast our discussion of How the Light Gets In. It will have some spoilers for The Beautiful Mystery but none for How the Light Gets In. Watch here »

And on Labor Day, September 1, 2014, we’ll be webcasting Louise talking about The Long Way Home. You can click in at 5:00 pm PST or any time thereafter. Watch here »

You can see we’re friends as well as colleagues after an improbable start that began in 2005 when a copy of Still Life arrived from Louise’s London publisher. I was enchanted by Louise’s loving and brilliant reimagining of the village mystery from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction—but set in Canada, Quebec, rather than in England. I imagined that Louise was probably British, although I smiled at the irony of her application of a classic British mystery structure to Quebec, knowing how some of the Québeçois have long and vociferously lobbied for separation from Canada, and thus the British Commonwealth. This new author must have an excellent sense of humor, thought I.

Eager to amass and sell tons of copies, I soon learned that the publisher had mostly sold out its print run. And that Louise was not British but lived in Quebec. The logistics of our usual procedure with outstanding debut fiction, obtaining signed copies of the first printing for customers, were hopeless, involving three countries and shipping nightmares. But I had another string to my bow, Toronto’s wonderful Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, which generously supplied what copies it could and hooked us up with Louise, or rather lured her in to sign them for us. That was the start.

Imagine then our joy (I speak for me and The Poisoned Pen staff) when St. Martin’s/Minotaur bought Still Life and in time the rest of Louise’s work, and with her fourth Gamache, sent her to Scottsdale.

Generally when you as a reader are enchanted with the work of an author, the author’s voice, you begin to imagine how that author might be as a person. Creating a sort of hagiography. Only you know if the reality, should you chance to meet the author or observe the author say through the webcast links given above, meshes with your vision of the author. I refer you to one of the quotes I cite below. “Ecce homo.” Frère Mathieu utters these words when he’s dying. Frère Sébastien utters them to Gamache towards the end of Chapter 34. If the meet-the-author experience has been yours, if you in effect “Beheld” the person, then you will understand the relevance of Ecce homo in The Beautiful Mystery. It can be a risky business, meeting an author, who is, like you, merely human.

Second, let’s clear up the Locked Room Mystery. The LRM, or “impossible crime,” is a subgenre of detective fiction, a subset of the closed circle construct. The crime is committed under apparently impossible circumstances and presents a challenge from the author to the reader—work this one out! In the classic LRM the clues are there for the reader to spot but the author is skilled in massive misdirection. If you missed them while reading and went on to The Big Reveal at book’s end, it’s fun to go back and read the LRM a second time to admire the author’s artistry.

Let’s apply the LRM to The Beautiful Mystery. Frère Mathieu is one of 24 monks living in a cloistered community. He is murdered in the garden, an open space. There are thus 23 possible suspects and the question is, who-dunnit? Often determined by asking, why? Supplying the compelling motive. In The Beautiful Mystery, this task is so daunting that an unusual step is taken in Chapter 34 to cause the murderer to reveal himself. Gamache has figured out who-dunnit, but he needs verification. “It was a risk,” he says, to Frère Sébastien, the man Gamache got to sing the prior’s chant in hopes the murderer would react. “But I needed a quick resolution.” The detective also asks, who has the means to commit the murder? And the opportunity? Any monk had the means to kills Mathieu. Both Gamache and the abbot eventually work out who was the monk with the opportunity. In the final chapter, they arrive at the motive.

Now suppose that Frère Mathieu was found dead in a windowless cell (his bedroom). The roof fits tightly, with no trap doors or dormers or chimneys or thatch you can raise for exit. The floor is tiled. The door is tightly fitted and of stout oak and has a secure lock. When the monks break down the door (with an axe), the key, the only key, is found in the lock on the inside.

What do we have? Death by natural causes? Suicide (are the means at hand?)? A homicidal angel (or demon) visitation? A clever killer who, most likely, is well alibied? Sometimes this is the first line of investigation: cause of death. And the second is, how-dunnit? Deducing how-dunnit identifies who-dunnit, and the why of it emerges.

An older and rickety example of the LRM can be found in Sherlock Holmes’ “The Case of the Speckled Band.” I’ve always felt that the fact the bed is fixed to the floor is such a big clue the rest should have been obvious. The master of the LRM is one John Dickson Carr who wrote copiously, and also as Carter Dickson. Edward D. Hoch is his American analogue. And let’s not overlook the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, with And Then There Were None. And if I could think of the title, a fiendishly clever Reginald Hill mystery.

I felt I should address the LRM from your posts. But, back to The Beautiful Mystery. The village Louise imagines is Three Pines. It is not a place where the whole population can either be murdered—or become murderers. Nor can the village credibly become host to a continual influx of victims or killers. Otherwise it’s Cabot’s Cove.

Three Pines can remain the touchstone, the home base, but Armand Gamache has a broad writ—the whole of Quebec. One reason I like The Beautiful Mystery so well is the way Louise sweeps us up and off to a new location, one with an even less porous perimeter and a smaller population of suspects than Three Pines. So she’s upping her game by circumscribing the scene of the crime more tightly.

Which brings me to world-building. Introduce a place like Three Pines, or the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre les-Loups, at once real and not, and you touch upon the power of fantasy, or epic fiction. Some real world rules can be suspended. Three Pines is at once a place to live, and an escape. To observe an investigation there immerses the reader in the village (or the monastery) for an experience with an added dimension to watching an investigation unfold in real time in a real place, say, Los Angeles.

Magical landscapes are luminous, glorious, touch us. Yet dangerous. Edan Lepucki, reviewing Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, another example of world-building, underlines one of Louise’s dominant themes: “But enchanted worlds can be as devastating as our own, and good and evil don’t bifurcate as neatly as we would like.

Read the discussion on the very last two pages where Gamache, having watched the plane carrying away Jean-Guy Beauvoir, turns to the abbot. And the abbot asks him, “Do you know why we’re called Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups? Why our emblem is two wolves intertwined?” Gamache does not know, nor do we, but then the abbot lifts the curtain…. It’s a bit Brothers Grimm, a touch of the dark fairy tale, of something scary, feeding the beast within.

World-building goes hand in hand with fandom. Fandom is a community wherein, for readers who’ve accepted and enjoyed the special world the author has created, something slightly magical, something apart from daily life, happens. And fans bond with other fans to share its magic. And become apostles, spreading the word in a geometric progression. The Poisoned Pen is Diana Gabaldon’s home bookstore so we know this progression well.

We may be in a special world with Louise, but real world rules, human strengths, weaknesses, and emotions, remain. In The Beautiful Mystery, as in the real world around us, we’re looking at orthodoxy vs. change, tradition vs. modernity. Holding on to the core while embracing the new. “Some malady is coming upon us.” “Modern times,” adds Frère Sébastien. Forcing us to embrace change, so difficult for humans, even monks. Where do the cloistered Ghilbertines touch the modern world? Does the one most ready to embrace change, to further change, consciously put himself at risk? Or is he naïve or willfully blind not just to danger to himself but to the danger arising to others? Through fear? Through jealousy? If you are jealous, you fear you won’t be able to hold on to what you have or have attained. Jealousy doesn’t just apply to sex, or love of others, but to love of self.

History furnishes us with innumerable examples of what can happen when the prospect of change appears, when a rift in a society opens frightening those desperate for it to close. Jewish zealots. Catholic inquisitors. Puritan witch-hunters. Militant Islam. Or a monk who feared another would ruin the (Gregorian) chants—an irony in that, as Louise points out, we don’t know how they sounded originally but only as they have come down to us through the development of musical notation. A monk determined to be the guardian of what is, not of what is to come. Or is it that the monk feared exclusion, that he was jealous of his role in the choir. “All I wanted was to sing the chants?…Why wasn’t that enough?”

I wonder how The Beautiful Mystery reads according to the reader’s faith. To what the reader brings to the story. I’ve already pointed out my own lifelong love for music, for the beauty of the human voice, and emotional/neural reactions to music. But for me, there’s more. I made my first trip to Quebec as a young teen, going from Chicago to Montreal and then to Quebec City, then boarding a small ship and sailing down the St. Lawrence and, making a left turn, up the Saguenay River towards St. Anne de Beaupré. The church/shrine is Canada’s Lourdes, an important Catholic pilgrimage destination. To sail towards it on a dark yet starry night, towards an edifice lit like a beacon and with music (I think it was actually a commercial recording of Ave Maria, but hey…) pouring forth over the water… It made a beautiful mystery, especially to an Anglican unprepared for such Catholic ritual and ceremony. I’ve since spent a lot of time in England listening to boys’ choirs (St. Paul’s, York, Durham, Wells, Canterbury) and tried to imagine those unearthly, incredibly beautiful outpourings translated to a venue like that night on the river—although they are astonishing and beautiful in their home cathedrals. I especially like to hear those voices sing plainchant at Evensong (the sung version of Evening Prayer). I am almost entirely secular, yet the ceremony of the whole is incredibly moving. For the monks living their cloistered life, how much more so. For one, too much so? I wonder what each of you brings to reading the book and how your experiences and beliefs interact with the story. This belongs in “questions”, but fits better here.

Finally, I mentioned Louise’s genius at seeding plots earlier, her gift for long-range planning, creating story arcs that sweep her characters (and readers) from book to book, propelling us through the series always wondering what next. The Beautiful Mystery is about the murder of one monk, but it’s also the story of Jean-Guy Beauvoir’s journey which begins with a scene with his lover, Gamache’s beloved daughter Annie, and travels past confrontation and choice onto an airplane lifting into the sky. We want to call it back. We know his story isn’t over. We are fearful and we wonder and we can’t wait for the story’s continuation. I am in awe of how carefully Louise sets up How the Light Gets In –and how surprising it turns out to be.

Recap (Chapters 18-34)

Chapter 17 brought Francoeur into the picture and has Gamache hoping to see more clearly, not only the monks, his suspects, “But also the motives of the man in front of him. Who’d dropped so precipitously from the skies, with a purpose.” We see some of this purpose at Chapter 34, but in fact it will take How the Light Gets In to truly illuminate it. So, Gamache and Beauvoir sit in the Blessed Chapel, not quite as one, and ask “whether it was ever right to kill one for the sake of the many.” Gamache in asking is thus on track for motive. And identifying the murdering monk.

Chapter 18 develops Beauvoir’s story. We learn he hasn’t been on Oxy for months, since Gamache confronted him, took away the pills, got him help. This is ominous. Will being in the monastery despite the murder bring Beauvoir peace, or exacerbate his issues? Chapter 19 heats up the war between Francoeur and Gamache, illuminating their mutual loathing, discussing the crime. And so it goes on.

In Chapter 27 we get a good window into Dom Philippe, the abbot, his responsibilities and his sense of failure as the monks’ spiritual and physical shepherd. And Frère Sébastien arrives from Rome. Gamache quickly realizes that the murder comes as a surprise to the young man and that he has come, paddled his way to the monastery, for some other reason. He’s a Dominican, not a Ghilbertine. Which is revealed at the chapter’s end. Chapter 33 complicates Beauvoir’s story with a reintroduction of drugs.

And Chapter 34, in a variation of the classic detective story wrap up (think Nero Wolfe in his study) that plays upon many emotions and pulls together various threads, reveals the murderer and the why of it, propels Beauvoir in an unexpected direction, and prepares Gamache for future confrontation.

Favorite Quotes

Ecce homo,” John 19:5 “Behold the man,” spoken by Pontius Pilate and by Frère Mathieu as he was dying.

“Some malady is coming upon us.” —TS Elliot, Murder in the Cathedral

Discussion Questions

1. Here is the Third Collect from The Book of Common Prayer for Evensong, “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” Is this strictly the province of the Lord, or is it also the province Armand Gamache sees for himself? Is he harsh with himself if he falls short of defending someone from “all perils and dangers”? Should he be?

2. What act and by what person, do you feel is the most evil in The Beautiful Mystery? (Hint: malice aforethought is essential to a charge of murder in the first degree).

3. Do you fear change and if so, has reading The Beautiful Mystery made you more (or less) receptive? More conscious of accelerating change all around us?

4. Did you exit this book hardly able to wait until Louise’s next? If so, why?

5. “Words are effective not because of what they carry in them, but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader.” (Peter Mendelsund) Does this help explain your responses to Louise’s work?

6. Are you a Louise Penny reader, or a fan (in the way I discuss both above)? If you are reading this, and posting, does that answer the question?

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 2

  1. Julie says:

    Wow, Barbara! I don’t think I’ve ever read such a cogent analysis of the mystery – you’ve opened my eyes to a whole new way to look at mysteries while I read them. As you say, once the killer is revealed, it’s fun to go back and see the clues the writer has hidden there for you. I think, because so many of us have confessed that the mysteries are secondary to the character development in Louise Penny’s stories, we may have given her short shrift as to the skill she displays in crafting a truly mystifying story! Part of the reason I no longer try to figure out whodunnit in her stories is that I can’t. And yet, when you go back, the clues are there.

    I also love that you’ve made available the webcasts of you and Louise – I’ll be watching those in the next few days – I see they’re quite long – not just a minute or two.

    It’s funny that you mentioned Cabot Cove in your introduction – I had thought at first, that a small village like Three Pines was absolutely destined to become a Cabot Cove and a very dangerous place to live, indeed! But Louise has very deftly managed to sidestep that issue and really, all of Quebec is at our feet. Love that!

    Another good set of questions for us – and I will try to tackle them one at a time, but first I had to tell you how much I appreciate the care and time you have obviously put into your time here with us. Thank you.

  2. Julie says:

    1. Here is the Third Collect from The Book of Common Prayer for Evensong, “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” Is this strictly the province of the Lord, or is it also the province Armand Gamache sees for himself? Is he harsh with himself if he falls short of defending someone from “all perils and dangers”? Should he be?

    This quote, which deals with dark and light brings back the discussion from last week. Toward the end someone (Jane?) mentioned that we had talked of music so much, we’d bypassed the light. And How the Light Gets In is not only the name of the next book – it’s been a major theme throughout the books. I’ve just last night finished a re-re-read of A Fatal Grace, and the idea of “There’s a crack in everything – it’s how the light gets in.” is a big part of that book as well. It’s introduced in Clara’s painting of The Three Graces – with a vessel – a space, where El had been. It’s their crack, and it’s how the light got in. Fascinating to think that Louise has planned these books out so carefully, and so far ahead.

    Now – Gamache – is he too harsh on himself? Absolutely. He blames himself for not being able to protect his agents, yet, each of the agents knew that they were in a dangerous situation and they went anyway. He is thoughtful, and careful – but no matter what, with the amazing dark forces working against him, Gamache couldn’t possibly have saved Morin, or the other agents lost in the awful fight. He did the best he could, and far better than most would have been able to. I wish he didn’t take it on his own shoulders so much. I think this is another reason he told Nichol to stay behind. She is inexperienced enough that she would most likely have been one of the casualties, and he knew that. He WAS looking out for his agents – but their enemy was too cunning and too evil. At the time, they didn’t know it, but their enemy was Francoeur. How awful for Gamache to have to deal with this. And to put his people in this situation.

    • KB says:

      Gamache wants to protect his own. That may be his agents or his family. He does bear a great deal of responsibility as he is the superior officer. But this means that he needs to train them properly and give them the best direction that he can. He did this. He was harsh with himself for things he could not control. He could buy more time because Francoeur was in his way. He could not improve the information given by Nichol….and she gave the best information she could. He couldn’t fix the rot in the Surete. He knows that the forces creating the rot are powerful and dangerous and so he continues to try to protect his people by keeping them out of the loop in his investigation into the leak of the tape.

      • Sylvia H. says:

        In addition to his sense of responsibility for his agents, as their Chief, I think part of his harshness with himself at not being able to protect them was because he had very carefully hand picked them – they had not been doing well in their previous positions, but he had seen the potential in them to become fine detectives. In the process of training them, he had developed a deep attachment to them all, but especially, of course, to Jean Guy. He feels personally wounded when they are hurt and more so if they are killed. He is a man who lives from his heart more than from his head. This is just who he is.

  3. Julie says:

    2. What act and by what person, do you feel is the most evil in The Beautiful Mystery? (Hint: malice aforethought is essential to a charge of murder in the first degree).

    Without question, Francoeur is the evil that is the most cunning, and most damaging. What he does to Beauvoir is so reprehensible – so awful. It foreshadows some very dark days to come, for both Beauvoir and Gamache. I almost couldn’t stand reading his spiral downwards back into his addiction here. But to know it was done to him so purposefully, and so maliciously – I found that very shocking!

    • KB says:

      I agree with Julie that Francoeur is the most evil of the evil. His most evil act is the pre-meditated sabotage of Beauvoir. Going through the therapist’s files and working on all of the fears that came out in therapy to drive a wedge between Beauvoir and Gamache, making Beauvoir doubt Gamache’s intentions (turning concern and respect into “you’re his bitch” and “he doesn’t care about you”) to increase the anxiety and dis-ease. And then giving Beauvoir the Oxy-Contin when it was clear that he was ripe to grab onto his addiction once more. And knowing that Francoeur grabbed onto Beauvoir because he was most convenient and the most likely to hurt Gamache rather than any danger or threat he posed to Francoeur and the rot in the Surete was the icing on the cake.

    • Linda Maday says:

      There are two books in this series that I had to set aside for a little while as I so felt the emotion of Jean Guy’s descent into darkness.

      There he was in a place of light and beautiful rainbows and he chose to feed the evil wolf Francoeur.

      The premeditated evil of Francoeur was too much for words. Can there ever be anything more evil than to destroy ones faith in love, belief in self, hope for love?

      Is there any more horrifying picture than that of Jean Guy flying away with evil while redemption and salvation held out its hand?

  4. Julie says:

    3. Do you fear change and if so, has reading The Beautiful Mystery made you more (or less) receptive? More conscious of accelerating change all around us?

    Change is not something I have ever feared. And, in fact, it’s one of those things that seem to be a “universal truth” that I don’t really understand. I think my early life (my parents moved, on average, once every 6 months until I was 7 or 8, and once a year after that – so I was always changing schools, towns, friends…) prepared me better than most for change. I’ve always taken big leaps compared to lots of friends who could never imagine changing jobs, careers, towns, or even apartments! I see why the monks of St. Gilbert entre les Loups would fear the outside world, and change of any kind. And yet, even for them – new people come into the fold, as elders die out – ways to make money for building repairs, etc., have changed throughout the years – change comes to them, but slowly. It will, of course, come more quickly now that Frère Sébastien has come. They may find that this, and not the murder, is the biggest change for them. I worry about them, and what will happen now.

    • KB says:

      Some change I fear. Others I don’t. This book has not changed that. My issue is more with seeing when change is necessary and not blaming myself for not being enough to be able to cope with the (then) current situation. That being said, I don’t think that I’d have the guts to change from an academic type career to a more creative one. I WOULD fear that I was not enough – not talented enough – to be able to succeed. And that lack of talent would have a negative impact on my children. So I am doomed to continue plodding along in a career that I (mainly) enjoy. :)

  5. Julie says:

    4. Did you exit this book hardly able to wait until Louise’s next? If so, why?

    Yes, yes, yes! I have come to care so much about Beauvoir, that I HAD to know what was coming! I wanted to read that when he got back to Montreal, he went into rehab and was soon back at work with Gamache. I didn’t want the awful, gut-wrenching reality he went forward to. What is funny is that, during the reread, I realized that I had devoured this book so quickly, that a lot was lost to me. Oddly, How the Light Gets In was one in which I remembered who the killer was, but forgot the whole ending, which resolves a lot of the things we’d been going through. I remembered the peril, but not the resolution. The reread allowed me to go at a more leisurely pace and so I was much more gratified, the second time around!

    But the end of The Beautiful Mystery left me on tenterhooks as to what would befall Beauvoir, especially, and everyone, so that I HAD to get to it as soon as possible. It was the first book I had to wait for the release of, and that was very hard for me. I felt like we were in The Perils of Pauline – halfway through a story and left at the crucial moment, tied up on the railroad tracks for months on end while we waited for the publication date!

    • KB says:

      The ending of this book was awful. It was heart-wrenching to have Beauvoir choose to go with Francoeur because he didn’t want to go to rehab again. It was horribly real to see that he chose the drug (and evil) instead of his love for Gamache and Annie. But, even while experiencing that grief, I trusted that Penny would allow healing for Beauvoir. Or, at least I hoped she would. So, yes, I eagerly awaited the next book as I have done after each one in the series. I have to admit, that I regularly read the series from the beginning leading up to the next book – except for “The Cruellest Month” which I believe my father “borrowed”.

      • Judy S. says:

        4. Did you exit this book hardly able to wait until Louise’s next? If so, why?
        As Julie and KB said, the final scene, with Jean-Guy’s addiction come back to life and Jean-Guy himself now in the thrall to the evil Francoeur, made me want to read the next book immediately. It was heartbreaking to seem Beauvoir lose the joy he had found as his addiction took over – he was convinced that Annie was laughing at him behind his back, that Gamache had abandoned him, that he was alone in the darkness (the light gone from his life).

        I retrieved “How the Light Gets In” from my shelf, opened it – but did not read it. I know that once I read “The Long Way Home” I will have to wait a year for the answers to that ending, and I wanted to savor, for a few days, having the next book available to me whenever I want to read it.

        • Sylvia H. says:

          When I read these books the first time, I had bought them all and when I came to the end of The Beautiful Mystery, I couldn’t wait to see what happened to Jean Guy. But, without giving anything away, there are some extremely tense moments in How the Light Gets In, so in this reread, I couldn’t pluck up the courage right away to read it. So I waited several days before I opened it and started reading because I was so broken-hearted about Jean Guy choosing to go with Francoeur. I hurt so much along with Armand. His grief was very noticeable, as the abbot saw a look of such sadness on Armand’s face that it almost broke his heart. I think somewhat of a bond developed between them. Anyway, I’ m well into How the Light Gets In now.

      • Judy S. says:

        I think it’s so interesting that Louise taps into the theme of addiction in a conversation that Gamache has with Frere Sebastien in which they discuss the power of the chants. Gamache comments on the way the monks go into a reverie when singing, and adds, “I’ve seen that look before, you know. On the faces of drug addicts.” (p. 332) He says it, in part, to probe the thoughts of Frere Sebastien, but it also reminds me of what one of the monks says earlier in the book – that they are all broken, in their own way. Jean-Guy has one way of dealing with his dark room; the monks have another. I think this parallel is also reflected in the fact that Jean-Guy discovers that one of the monks is almost a mirror image to him: from the same place, same body type, plays the same position in hockey. He is extremely puzzled by their similarities and differences, and spends time thinking about how different their choices are.

        • Judy S. says:

          I wanted to add that Jean-Guy is not just addicted to drugs – he is also addicted to watching the video. Over and over again. How chilling the scene is when he takes some pills and then rushes to the computer to watch the video, while he hears the monks singing their chants. The scene cuts back and forth between the sound of the monks singing and the images in the video. Very filmic.

          Favorite quote: Gamache is thinking about what has happened in the two years since the monks released the recording: “They were now roughly two years AR [after recording]. Plenty of time for a close friendship to turn to hate. As only a good friendship could. The conduit to the heart was already created.”

      • Kathy Bradley says:

        I agree that the ending was awful. I am grateful that I had waited to read this and I immediately read How the Light Gets In. If I had to wait for a year to find out what happened to the characters that I have learned to love and detest so much, it would have been awful.

  6. Julie says:

    5. “Words are effective not because of what they carry in them, but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader.” (Peter Mendelsund) Does this help explain your responses to Louise’s work?

    Clearly, I’m not as thoughtful and introspective as I might be. I think this is very true, but I’ve never really thought about it before. But the bits that truly speak to me in Louise’s work, are the things I recall from my childhood, spent in the less developed areas of Ontario (which is most of the province!) – the wilds of the forests, the extreme cold and beauty of the winters, the berry-picking, dangling your legs off the end of the dock into a cold lake on a hot summer’s day. Louise’s distinctly Canadian personality in these mysteries is what has drawn me to them, and what charms me so much! Add to this, the wonderful characters I’ve come to care so much about, and we have Louise’s perspective and my own intertwined in the enjoyment I’ve found in these books!

    • KB says:

      This statement is absolutely true. I have noticed that each person commenting on the series has had a slightly different understanding of what drives Ruth, Nichol, Beauvoir, Gamache, Olivier, etc. based on people they know and experiences they’ve had. Those of us who love art and music are drawn in by Louise’s descriptions of Peter’s, Clara’s, and the dead woman’s (can’t remember her name – meno moment) art and the monks’ plainchant. We likely all have a slightly different picture in our head(s) of what those paintings look like. (Since we can listen to Gregorian chant, we are probably all closer to the same page on what the plainchant sounded like.) Those of us who love food are drawn to the bistro and want a cookbook. We likely have a different impression of how much salt, spice, and butter/cream was used in creation of these culinary masterpieces. Those of us who love antiques are drawn to the bistro for other reasons, and those of us who are drawn to “place” and “relationships”….. the same. Where Louise shines is in her ability to describe place, art, music, character and relationships. I have not found another author who is able to do all of that so richly. (Hence the re-read marathon before each new book.)

  7. Julie says:

    6. Are you a Louise Penny reader, or a fan (in the way I discuss both above)? If you are reading this, and posting, does that answer the question?

    I guess I started as a reader and became a fan. By the time this re-read book-club came about, I was completely hooked and ready to share my mania with others. I’ve so enjoyed the discussions here, and found that there is a LOT more for me to discover as I read others’ comments and insights. So much I hadn’t thought of. I’m enjoying my third read through these novels, and I know I’ll continue to read them again and again….

    • KB says:

      Yep. I’m a fan. I’ve tried other mystery writers and have found them wanting in comparison. I am SO looking forward to The Long Way Home.

  8. Meg R says:


    Think I was one of last posters for Part I, so I’m reposting info for anyone interested. A friend just told me that a DVD is available for the CBC’s made for tv film of “Still Life” – our first foray into the Gamache books. It can be purchased for $29.99 at

    If you don’t want to buy it, submit it as a title for purchase if your local public library has a video lending section, — or buy it, watch it and then donate it!
    Little hectic here. I still have a little over 100 pages to reread – so I won’t comment on anything yet.

    • Karen I Ford says:

      It is also available at for the same price.

    • Kathy Bradley says:

      You can pre-order the DVD on ($16.99 for Prime members) in the US – but it won’t be available until October 7, 2014.

      • Julie says:

        Oh, that’s a much better price – good news. Thanks. It’s interesting to note that Louise Penny has distanced herself from this tv movie. She started out participating in it and happy about it, but something happened (she’s much too much of a lady to say what) and she now simply won’t comment on it. This has made me loath to spend too much money on it – much more than I’ve ever spent on one of her books! Kind of makes me want to send the money to Louise rather than the CBC, hahaha.

  9. RosB says:

    Thanks MegR for the comment about the DVD being for sale. Very interested. cheers

  10. Lizzy says:

    Barbara! I just love reading your thoughts! You also write beautifully. Have you ever thought of writing a book? I’d love to read it!

    Love the questions but alas I need to make dinner now. Later. Oh and Julie I love the richness you add to the discussions!

  11. LauraS says:

    Who is the most evil? Francoeur, bien sur. He came to try to attack Gamache and almost destroyed Beauvoir.

  12. Karen I Ford says:

    The Third Collect for Evensong is one of my personal favorite prayers, having learned it in Youth Group as a teenager.
    This book disturbed me more than any of the other books. I genuinely feared for Gamache when Francoeur appeared. It was as if the incarnation of evil had suddenly raised it ugly head and even the Abbot could not hold him back.
    I truly love Louise’s books. I knew from the first page of “Still Life” that I had found a gem. She has not disappointed me. All of the novels have been about change and how the characters handle change. Each book really does need to be read in order so that you can watch the development of the story.
    Jean-Guy is so full of contradictions. You want him to open his eyes to see that his addiction is a lifelong problem. And he is very weak — physically and emotionally. Gamache can only help him so far and then he will have to stand on his own two feet. Francoeur is the sabot in the works! It truly is a case of good vs evil — not just in the death of the monk but in the relationship between Gamache and Jean-Guy and Gamache and Francoeur.
    Yes, Gamache was too hard on himself. He wanted to protect his team. He can not protect his team from all “the perils of the night” — no one can do it all!

  13. Nancy Reed says:

    I truly cannot read this or any other things about Gamache and his adventures until I finish all 10 books! :(

  14. When I first read a Beautiful Mystery I felt as if we were taking a breath, away from the office of the Surete that had become so poisonous. The peace disturbed, does not break at the monastery, the hidden life, has been shared. Gamache’s journey, still hidden is evolving towards a climax. Beauvoir’s lack of strength, lack of faith, lack of willingness to move forward, mimics the stagnation of the monk who is locked into only the chants. Always it is the forces outside the scene that moved us to an ending. Beauvoir moves into the darkness. Gamache, must be making choices, of course that will be revealed for the reader in the next book. We can never leave these people hanging, so of course we crave the next chapter.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      This book was the most tense of all so far. It started out fine, Jean Guy was doing pretty well, and he and Armand were working well together until the “slimeball” Francoeur showed up. You just new chaos was coming! The most evil person is definitely Francoeur, and three things he did were the most evil acts:
      1) He brought the video of the factory raid, knowing that Beauvoir would find it and be unable to resist watching it,
      2) He placed the bottle of Oxy Contin on Jean Guy’s night table with the “bona fide” note signed by the doctor monk to take them as needed,
      3) He called Beauvoir Gamache’s bitch along with other vile crude names.
      Francoeur’s whole purpose for being there was thoroughly evil. Francoeur and Gamache are a contrast in darkness and light and poor beloved Beauvoir is stuck in between. It was so heartbreaking when he chose Francoeur, and Gamache was left behind to watch him go.

  15. Sylvia H. says:

    Something else I would like to comment on is the story Dom Philippe tells Gamache at the end about the two wolves fighting inside the old grandfather. And which wolf will win? The one he feeds. This is so very true to life, isn’t it! We all know which wolf we want to win because we all long to be good, brave and kind, but we can’t manage it on our own. I love all these wonderful contrasts in Louise Penny’s books. They are so deep, so much more than mere entertainment. I am still very fond of a series of police procedurals written by Peter Robinson, which are set mostly in Yorkshire, England. They are very much plot driven, and they are excellent on that level, which is pure entertainment, but as soon as I started reading Still Life, I knew I had found an author of much greater depth and richness. Friends recommended Penny to me and urged me to read them in order, so I ordered the whole lot from Amazon and tucked in! Not a whole lot of housework got done, I must confess, but I have had such a marvellous time. By the time I heard about this delightful club engaged in the rereads, you were already at A Rule Against Murder, which I have as The Murder Stone. I have enjoyed these discussions so much and have been able to add a little based on personal knowledge of life in Quebec.

    • Julie says:

      Sylvia – I really liked that quote too, and have thought much about which wolf I feed. I need to be careful – I think, from my family dynamic, there’s a tendency to feed the petulant wolf (is this why I like poor Nichol so much?). I try to feed the kind one, but some days, he looks like he’s starving!

      • Sylvia H. says:

        Some days I’m sure all our good gray wolves are starving!! I have started to pray each morning that today I will feed the gray wolf. I think this is one of the easier metaphors for the warring of good and evil within us. I, too, have thought a lot about which wolf I’m feeding.

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