Discussion - Book 8: The Beautiful Mystery

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

    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?

  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • Depending on how you answered that, do you read other authors’ mysteries differently?
  • 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?
Discussion - Book 7: A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light, Part 2

Recap (from Chapter 10 to the End)

A diptych is art pieces designed to be displayed together where the meaning of one artwork is deepened by reference to its pair. The first half of A Trick of the Light opens with Clara Morrow’s triumphant vernissage and the electric reaction to her portrait of poet Ruth Zardo as the aged Virgin Mary. This is the painting that captivates Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and over which the international press raves. In the second half of the novel, we discover A Trick of the Light is really a diptych—it is a book about more than one triumphant piece of art and more than one newly discovered artist.

In part 1 we read about the murder of a now obscure former art critic for La Presse (a Montreal daily), Lillian Dyson, whose body is discovered the morning after Clara Morrow’s big celebration. Lillian’s body is found lying in Clara’s garden in Three Pines. The investigation soon turns upon motive and evidence—everyone in Quebec art circles remembers Lillian’s barb: “He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function” but no one can remember who the “he” refers to in the infamous take-down. An Alcoholics Anonymous beginners chip is found near the body. Was Lillian killed for authoring a savage review and will the murderer be found enmeshed somewhere in the world of AA?

While Agent Lacoste and her team comb the archives of La Presse to track down the elusive review, Gamache and his second in command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir head to the shabby apartment of Lillian Dyson. What they find there is a stash of artwork that is a revelation to Gamache:

“Her paintings were lush and bold. Cityscapes, Montreal, made to look and feel like forest. The buildings were tall and wonky, like strong tress growing this way and that. Adjusting to nature, rather than the other way around.”

And the masterpiece in the making was not of the aged Virgin Mary but a decrepit church:

“It was unfinished. It showed a church, in bright red, almost as though it was on fire. But it wasn’t. It simply glowed. And beside it swirled roads like rivers and people like reeds. No other artist he knew was painting in this style. It was as if Lillian Dyson had invented a whole new art movement.”

Soon Gamache confirms what he already suspects, that the work of an undiscovered genius may be far more valuable to the astute collector or gallery owner. The art dealer, Denis Fortin, explains:

“‘Alive she would produce more art for the gallery to sell, and presumably for more and more money. But dead?

‘The fewer paintings the better. A bidding war would ignite and the prices…’

Fortin looked to the heavens.”

In Lillian’s apartment Gamache and Beauvoir find Lillian’s copy of Alcoholics Anonymous and her meeting list. Gamache and Beauvoir will head to the Sunday night meeting—held in the same church that was the subje ct of Lillian’s unknown masterpiece. Lillian had underlined a passage in her AA book: “The alcoholic is like a tornado, roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead.” We are about to enter the tornado.

So it might seem incongruous that the scene is set up through humour. Gamache meets Bob at the door: “‘I am not actually an alcoholic,’ says Gamache.

Bob looked at him with amusement: ‘Of course you aren’t.’”

Although I haven’t noted it earlier, humour glimmers in all of Louise’s books. Employing a deadpan delivery (the same way she talks in person) she wields humour in her writing to underscore some of the most serious topics.

At the AA meeting, we meet a second set of characters who will propel the story to its final conclusion: Suzanne, Lillian’s sponsor at AA, who knows Lillian’s secrets but seems reluctant to tell; Chief Justice Thierry Pinneault, who chairs the meeting—he will struggle throughout the rest of the novel to be both loyal to his fellow AA members and to uphold the course of justice; and Brian, who has killed a young child while driving drunk. He confesses: “Do you know what finally brought me to my knees? I wish I could say it was guilt, a conscience, but it wasn’t. It was loneliness.”

All three AA members find their way to Three Pines. We learn that the 12-step recovery program includes a ninth step—asking for forgiveness—and that in the final months of her life Lillian confronted those she had hurt and attempted to make amends. “Make direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” [italics added.] But has Lillian been too rushed and too careless? Has she caused injury?

Agent Lacoste and her team return to Three Pines. They inform Gamache they’ve tracked down Lillian Dyson’s famous blurb and a few more bon mots. We are close to the solving the case now as well as seeing more of the character’s private lives unfold.

Gamache wades deeper into the murk surrounding the video of the disastrous factory shooting. How was it filmed and how did it leak to the public where it became an internet sensation? Beauvoir and Gamache confront one another: Gamache trying to make his colleague seek more help to recover and Beauvoir struggling to be completely honest to his patron, to forgive Gamache, and to reach out to Annie. Clara and Peter’s marriage takes a decisive turn, the ramifications of which will only become clear in future books.

The final section begins with an invitation for Gamache, Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste to attend a dinner party hosted by Clara. No one knows that this is where Gamache will confront the murderer. It will be very relaxed says Clara, “en famille.”

And then in a novel where English and French words have flowed interchangeably Louise as writer comments for the first time about the use of French word.

“Gamache smiled at the French phrase. It was one [his wife] Reine-Marie often used. It meant ‘come as you are”, but it meant more than that. She didn’t use it for every relaxed occasion and with every guest. It was reserved for special guests, who are considered family. It was a particular position, a compliment. An intimacy offered.”

The Eastern Townships is a part of Quebec where French and English language intermingle—someone might start a sentence in French and finish in English. Some people say they think in both languages. So when Louise calls attention to en famille and its full meaning the phrase takes on extra import.

I think it conveys to the reader that however this murder mystery ends, the bonds between the characters we have come to know so well over seven books will continue to change and deepen, but most importantly they will endure en famille in the books to follow. Gamache has been offered a permanent place in Three Pines.

Favourite Quote

Suzanne’s description of why she let go of her hatred for Lillian:

“I’d held on to that hurt, coddled it fed it grew it. Until it had all but consumed me. But finally I wanted something even more than I wanted my pain.”

The epilogue provides a searing example of almost superhuman forgiveness, when Chief Justice Pinneault explains the true nature of his bond with the skinhead Brian, but when I read the words of Suzanne in the chapter prior, the psychology of her forgiveness seems more relatable and the mechanism more universal. It also sounded familiar.

I met a couple who had gone a camping trip with their daughter. On a given day, both parents thought the other was taking care of the girl and she drowned. In the aftermath the couple stayed together but they both blamed each other bitterly until they accepted that anger and blame was completely futile. It took years. They couldn’t choose to forgive; they couldn’t will it—it had to come on its own terms. They told me this at the funeral of another child who had drowned and they hoped for the same outcome for the other grieving parents—that they could eventually surrender their mutual sorrow and feelings of guilt. Louise’s quote contains the same realism about sadness, hope and forgiveness. I suspect Louise Penny’s hope comes from hard-won personal experience.


I started my re-read with a personal anecdote about the first time I spoke with Louise and how she was so kind during our initial phone call. On that call I told her that her books have always appealed to me as love letters to Quebec and the Quebecois. I spent my summers in Quebec as a child and still have family there. I don’t get to travel to Quebec as often I would like, but I go there again and again when I reread Louise Penny. “This little village produced bodies and gourmet meals in equal measure,” says Beauvoir. And much more.

Does a Canadian read Louise Penny differently than someone else? Does a Swede read Henning Mankell differently than an international reader? Perhaps not, but you notice things and hear tone differently.

It is said that national literatures often reveals deeper themes, myths if you will. The myth of the United States is ‘The Last Frontier’ and rugged individualism, the myth of the United Kingdom is the island nation. The myth for Canada is survival in the wilderness. Canadians first came together in forts, then villages, and then cities because the wilderness beyond is so powerful and so deadly, and we are so vulnerable if we remain alone.

When Louise Penny writes of Three Pines as a refuge she is describing something very deep within the Quebecois and the Canadian imagination—not just a cozy village, but more a respite from what lies beyond it.

Discussion Questions

  • Louise Penny says Three Pines is a state of mind as much as a place. Could Three Pines and its characters exist outside of Quebec?
  • “Everyone lies. . . . Everyone hides things says Gamache.” What has he hid and how has he lied?
  • A Supreme Court Justice of Canada has recently been quoted as saying she is reading Louise Penny. What do you think she will make of Chief Justice Pinneault?
  • “I wish I could say it was guilt, a conscience, but it wasn’t. It was loneliness.” Brian says he quit drinking not because of conscience but because of loneliness. What is the connection between addiction and loneliness?
  • “People only remember bad reviews” says the artist Normand. Do you think this is true?
  • A fan wrote in to say she had named her son Armand after Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. “I feel that the Chief Inspector embodies all of the characteristics I would love to see in my son—intelligence, integrity, kindness, loyalty, compassion, and empathy, although he is not above admitting when he is wrong and is flawed in ways that make him all too human and very intriguing to follow through all of the novels.” Is there a character that you would name a child after?
  • Poetry is used far more than mere ornament in A Trick of the Light. Characters reflect on the lines of Margaret Atwood, Stevie Smith and others throughout the book. What are your favorite lines and why?
Discussion - Book 7: A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light, Part 1


We all love those scenes where Gamache meets a new officer of the Sûreté and instead of overawing them he shows kindness and curiosity. It was like this for me when I met Louise Penny, the Chief Inspector of our publishing adventures together in Canada.

We at Raincoast had just signed on to help with book promotion in Canada, it was the middle of June and A Trick of the Light was publishing in August. Not much time.

I spoke briefly with Louise but confessed that I could not talk for long as I was about to go to a Father’s Day Tea at my son’s preschool. When we spoke again, the first thing she asked about wasn’t our plans to promote her, but my son and our Tea. She asked about all the children, about the dads and most importantly about the children whose dads could not attend—how did the those kids feel? It was a Gamache-like exhibition of thoughtful perception. This time we had a lengthy telephone call—we did have lots of plans to help promote Louise and I can talk about my son for a long, long time. But like that junior officer of the Sûreté, now felt I was part of something special.

That Christmas Louise sent a paint-by-numbers kit. And my son said; “Daddy, we can use this to make another world.” To my ears it sounded like something that Clara’s character would say, and like Clara would have, we have kept the paintbrush from the paint set—a lovely gift given by a remarkable woman, who knows so very much about the nature of true friendship. Someday my son will read the Gamache Series and understand even better.

Recap (Chapters 1-9)

“Oh, no, no, no thought Clara Morrow as she walked towards the closed doors.” This is how Louise Penny begins A Trick of the Light.

Clara is about to walk through the door of the ultra-chic, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal for her vernissage, a private party where artists celebrate with friends, clients, patrons and even critics before their exhibitions open to the public. Reputations and egos are glossed not paintings. Despite the party being given for her, Clara feels nothing but dread. She has achieved her dream of a solo show at the “MAC”, but what if the critics and gallery owners hate her work?

Clara falls to the ground and it is Olivier Brulé, not her husband Peter, who gets down on the floor beside her “whether it’s on your knees or on your feet, you’re going through that door. It might as well be on your feet.” And so she gets up and we go through the door and into the novel.

The novel then moves to the Gamache family, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his beloved wife Reine-Marie are sitting in their Outremont apartment reading the L’Observateur and La Presse respectively. They and their daughter, Annie, are awaiting her huband, David’s arrival.

But Armand’s magazine reading is really just a stalling tactic his wife points out. He seems reluctant to rejoin his friends of Three Pines at the vernissage and to face Olivier to whom he has already apologized for his part in his Olivier’s wrongful conviction.

The real emotional center to the chapter, in my opinion, lies in the conversation between Jean Guy Beauvoir, Armand’s number two, and Gamache’s daughter, Annie, as they wait. Beauvoir thinks back to his time in hospital, after the disastrous factory raid described in Bury Your Dead , when it was Annie, not his now ex-wife Enid, who affirmed his will to live. “[Annie] had placed her hand in his and it had changed everything . . . this hand was large and certain and warm. And it invited him back.”

Jean Guy and Annie talk about the difficulty of true forgiveness and why Olivier has not forgiven Gamache.

Chapter two returns to the vernissage, beyond Clara’s crises at the door and we now eavesdrop on the reactions to Clara’s paintings from artists, critics and friends.

Armand and the art dealer, Francois Marois, are the most observant of the actual paintings on the wall and in particular the centerpiece, Clara’s portrait of Ruth Zardo as the aged Virgin Mary that we have come to know from previous books.

“Clara’s portrait wasn’t simply of an angry old woman. She had in fact painted the Virgin Mary. Elderly. Abandoned by a world weary and wary of miracles. A world too busy to notice the stone rolled back.”

Then finally at the end of the scene, with Gamache and Marois still deep in conversation the description is completed:

“But there was something else. A vague suggestion in those weary eyes. Not even seen really. More a promise. A rumour in the distance.

Amid all the brush strokes, all the elements all the color and nuance in the portrait, it came down to one tiny detail. A single white dot.

In her eyes.

Clara Morrow had pained the moment despair became hope.”

Or did she? On this question so much of the novel will pivot on many different levels.

“Maybe it isn’t hope at all” said Marois, “but merely a trick of the light.”

The major themes of are all now in place; the risks entailed by creating art, the judgement and responsibilities of the critic, what it takes to change emotionally, what it is to offer and accept forgiveness from others and finally what role can hope play in a world without easy faith. All this before the murder happens.

But we readers don’t have to wait long. After the vernissage Clara and her guests, both friends and members of the art world (not the same groups) repaired to Three Pines, the village on no map, to continue celebrating—the party goes well into the night. This is Quebec after all.

The next morning Clara is up early awaiting the return of Olivier and Peter who have driven off to pick up newspapers so she can read the critics’ verdicts. Olivier and Peter arrive with papers in hand; all the major papers have reviewed the show: The New York Times, The Times of London, The Globe & Mail and others. Clara wants to hold print editions “because I wanted to feel the newspaper in my hands. I wanted to read my reviews the same way I read reviews of all the artists I love. Holding the paper. Smelling it. Turning the pages.”

But the papers will remain untouched by Clara for most of the day. It is at this moment, Olivier and Peter and discover a body in Clara’s garden; “the red shoes just poking out from behind the flower bed.” The victim, dressed in an equally bright red dress had died quickly; someone had snapped her neck, around midnight.

Gamache, Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste who takes a bigger role in this investigation (much to the initial discomfort of Beauvoir) are back on the case.

No one had recognized the victim from the vernissage or from the after party at Three Pines. But she is soon identified as Lillian Dyson which comes as a terrible shock to Clara.

The victim had been best friends with Clara up until art school, but Lillian had turned on Clara. Lillian had savaged her in a student review, and their friendship ended. Clara never discovered that Peter played a role in all of this.

Later, as an art critic for La Presse, Lillian Dyson had gone after other artists too. She had penned a memorable blurb; “He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function” that lived on even though no one could now remember the artist at whom the barb had been aimed. Then Lillian left Montreal for New York.

Why would someone murder a now obscure art critic in Clara’s garden the night of her triumph? Who was so damaged by this now-dead acerbic critic that they would kill? The homicide team begins to interview and re-interview the gallery owners, patrons, artists and friends who attended the vernissage and the party at Three Pines, looking for motives and intent and lies and inconsistencies.

A major piece of evidence is discovered while Clara and her friends perform a smudge ceremony in Clara’s garden—they discover something the police had missed. A beginners chip from Alcoholics Anonymous, with the famous serenity poem imprinted on the back is found. Was it dropped by the murder or by the victim?

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Armand and Beauvoir must notify Lillian Dyson’s parents in Montreal and they go there to also explore more of the victim’s life. Meanwhile, Peter and Clara confront the awful truth that their marriage is also possibly dead, killed by the fact that Peter cannot accept the fact that his wife, and not he, will be the art star.

On the drive to Montreal, Gamache tries to speak with Beauvoir about his stalled recovery from the shooting in the factory and then about the end of his marriage to Enid. Beauvoir is about to tell Armand his true feelings for Annie, the woman he actually loves, but he can’t. “He opened his mouth , the words just hovering there, just opening. As though a stone had rolled back and these miraculous words were about to emerge into the daylight.” It is the same image, the stone and the tomb – referred to when describing Clara’s painting of the aged Virgin Mary and the cross above Mt. Royal.

Gamache and Beauvoir arrive at the apartment of the Lillian’s aged parents, pensioners who clearly adore their only daughter. For me this is one of the most deeply moving scenes. The description of the parents’ grief is so direct yet so contained. As she goes through the social niceties of pouring tea for her guests, Madame Dyson refers to her husband as Papa, “Would she still call him ‘Papa’ after today, Beauvoir wondered. Or was that the very last time? Would it be too painful?” That must of have been what Lillian called them”. And when they are finally told the news of the murder of their daughter; “Madame and Monsieur Dyson crossed over to continent where grieving parents lived. It looked the same as the rest of the world but it wasn’t.”

Before the Dysons descend into complete shock, Gamache and Beauvoir try to glean as much information as they can. The Dysons remember the youthful conflict between Clara and Lillian but from the other side- it was Clara who stole the ideas and confidence of Lillian and it was Clara who caused the estrangement. Their Lillian was a loving daughter who did not drink—she had returned to Montreal eight months prior and was working on making a clean start, on making amends.

Had Lillian been tricked into going to Three Pines only to meet her death? Gamache wonders. The next stop will be Lillian’s apartment. Up until now the investigation as focused on the art world, now Gamache and the squad must expand their search into another world; the half secret world of drinking and addiction . We will enter this world in part 2.

Favourite Quote

“The skyline of Montreal was looming in the foreground now across the river. And Mount Royal rose in the middle of the city. The huge cross on top of the mountain was invisible now, but every night it sprang to life, lit as beacon to a population that no longer believed in the church, but believed in family and friends, culture and humanity.

The cross didn’t seem to care. It glowed just as bright.”

I love this passage for several reasons.

  • I spent a January night in a hotel near the Biblioteque Nationale during a snowstorm with the old city to my left and the glowing cross on the Mount to my right. It is ethereal. It really does glow. Especially during a blizzard.
  • The ongoing Reread discussion for Bury Your Dead has talked a lot about Canadian and Quebecois history. What Louise says in four lines captures for me the essence of the Quiet Revolution—an event that completely transformed Quebec.
  • The cross didn’t seem to care. It glowed just as bright.” Is religion obsolete or merely obedient to a different conception of time and space than the secular world? This is subtle writing.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you visualize Clara’s portrait of the Virgin Mary? Which artist’s styles come to mind for you? And why?
  • The picture of Clara and Peter’s marriage is so honest. We do compete with our spouses and think we are being supportive when we are not. Clara confronts Peter: “you don’t even like my work.” What would you say in this situation? Is this a double- bind? Peter does have different artistic tastes than Clara, but can he dislike her art and still love his wife?
  • On the drive to Montreal Beauvoir asks “what would you have done sir? If you were married to someone else when you met Madame Gamache?” Do we all have a true love and what boundaries, if any, we should place around our search for that person?
  • In a novel that is about many things including the power of media, why do you think there is no mention of any fictional TV, radio or print coverage of the murder of Lillian Dyson? Louise Penny was a prominent journalist before she became a novelist. Why this omission of media coverage in the story?
  • The critic may wield great power in the art world, but do critics influence your reading decisions? Did you discover Louise Penny from a review or from somewhere else?
  • Louise takes great care to call out specific newspapers and magazines thoughout the novel. Do you notice what characters are reading and what does it tell us about them?
  • Louise describes grieving parents crossing over to another continent from which they won’t return. Does this deny the possibility of hope?
Discussion - Book 6: Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead, Part 2

Introduction for Part 2

Hi, this is Joe taking over for Annette on part 2 of this recap. I consider myself a reader and have been ever since I can remember. Over the years there have been many books I have loved and consider a favorite. Surprisingly though, I am not the type of reader who will reread a book. There are so many books I want to read that I have a hard time justifying going back to one I’ve already read even, if it was a favorite of mine. Bury Your Dead I can make an exception for because it still won’t let go of my emotions after all this time.

Recap (from Chapter 12 to the End)

Murder at the Lit and His:

While going through Renaud’s diaries, Gamache finds the date of the Lit and His board meeting with nothing else. He also sees a notation for the following week—SC at 1pm. The journal is blank after that. Looking back he finds a mention of the Lit and His a week before the board meeting and above it, four names Renaud planned to meet there—a Chin, a JD, S. Patrick, and F. O’Mara with the number 18-something. There is a S. Patrick in the phone book.

A visit to Sean Patrick’s house turns up nothing of interest, as does asking the Lit and His board. Gamache does notice some strange numbers in the book Mr. Blake is reading that look like two numbers Renaud had put in his diary: 9-8499 & 9-8572. It turns out they are catalog numbers the Lit and His used years ago. Not a very efficient system and the best they can do is narrow the references down to two possible years. The first year is 1939 and does not seem promising. The next. from 1899, refers to a lot donated by Madame Claude Marchand of Montreal. Gamache later discovers that Marchand was a housekeeper in 1899 for a Charles Paschal Télesphore Chiniquy who had died that year.

From Émile., we learn that Chiniquy was a priest who preached against the dangers of alcohol in Québec back in the 1860s or 1870s.

Gamache heads to search the local bookstores while Émile. does more research on Chiniquy. Gamache finds a store that sold Renaud some boxes of books it had purchased from the Lit and His the previous summer. Émile. discovers that Chiniquy was good friends with a James Douglas, who was one of the founders of the Lit and His. James was a doctor who started a mental hospital in Québec after being forced to leave the United States for robbing the wrong grave for dissection purposes. Also, it is revealed that the books that were sold by the Lit and His included the collection donated by Mrs. Claude Marchand back in 1899.

Gamache gets the idea to go back to Sean Patrick’s house and ask if he can check the back of a photo he noticed on his first visit. The photo is of Patrick’s great-grandfather, who shared his name, and a group of laborers in front of a large hole. The back of the photo reveals the names Sean Patrick and Francis O’Mara with the date 1869. Gamache also learns Patrick bought his home in 1870 in an unusual location for an Irish laborer to be able to afford.

Now we know the four names mentioned in Renaud’s diary. Gamache first meets with the Chief Archeologist, Serge Croix, to ask him to look into what digging work was going on at the time of the photograph. and then with Langlois to find that Renaud had left some boxes of books with his ex-wife. Gamache immediately visits Madame Renaud and discovers that two of the books are missing. The two they are searching for.

Serge Croix sends Gamache an email telling him that in the summer of 1869 there were three big digs—one at the Citadelle, one at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital, and one to dig a basement under the local restaurant The Old Homestead. Visiting the restaurant, Gamache recognizes the site of the photo he found at Sean Patrick’s house.

Gamache then spends a few hours at the Lit and His examining their books. When he leaves he has two books hidden in his satchel.

At the meeting of the Société Champlain, Gamache tells a story about what happened in the summer of 1869. The two books missing from Renaud’s collection are the two books Gamache found at the Lit and His: one of Chiniquy’s diaries and Champlain’s bible! The bible shows that Champlain was a Huguenot, which is why he was not buried in the Catholic cemetery. Also, from the diary we learn that Patrick and O’Mara found Champlain’s coffin under the Old Homestead and brought it to the Lit and His. After the meeting, Gamache asks Émile. why he lied about the time the meeting started and why he didn’t tell him the SC appointment in Renaud’s diary was for a meeting at the Société Champlain. Émile.apologizes for lying and says they rejected meeting with Renaud, who told them he had discovered important information and was willing to bury it if they accepted him into the group.

Back at the Lit and His, we find Inspector Langlois and Serge Croix in the basement. Gamache wants them to search again for the coffin and when Croix sees Champlain’s bible he agrees. A coffin is found buried near the stairs. The coffin is opened and…it contains the skeleton of a woman.

That evening Gamache and Henri head out for their nightly walk. Even in a blizzard they walk on until they are at The Plains of Abraham, where they find they are not the only ones out on this frigid late evening. Entering a stone turret to get out of the storm, Gamache finds the mystery guest is the young Presbyterian minister, Tom Hancock, whom he identifies as Renaud’s killer. Tom doesn’t deny it and says he had to because he was the only one who could. Also, that he came out in the storm to take his own life to end things. Gamache refuses to let that happen and finally Tom agrees to go with him to be arrested.

Hermit’s Murder Revisited:

Beauvoir returns to the B&B after learning from Olivier that the Hermit’s name was not really Jakob. He decides to take Clara into his confidence and tell her the real reason he is back in Three Pines. Time for Beauvoir to question the original suspects, starting with Old Mundin and The Wife.

During an exercise class Clara and Myrna are debating if they should murder their instructor Pina. Elizabeth Gilbert and The Wife both agree that they should and need to do it now! After the class Clara tries to steer the conversation to help Beauvoir and asks Hanna if she could kill anyone. She is not sure, but both Dominique and The Wife say if they had to they could.

After hearing about this conversation, Beauvoir calls Gamache and says he needs his help about the murder of the Hermit. He has narrowed it down to five suspects—Havoc Parra and his father Roar, Vincent Gilbert and his son Marc, or Old Mundin. They all had opportunity, but what motive? Beauvoir suggests that maybe the murder had nothing to do with the treasure. Beauvoir ends the phone call by asking if the Chief could look into Carole Gilbert and Old Mundin’s backgrounds since they both came from Quebec City.

Gamache asks Elizabeth MacWhirter if she knew Carole Gilbert. It turns out there were in the same bridge club, but didn’t socialize otherwise. Elizabeth did add that Carole was very patient, very calm, and a great strategist. Also, her maiden name was Woloshyn. which was an old Québec family. She knew the Mundins as well and told Gamache the father committed suicide by walking out on the thin ice of the river.

Beauvoir begins to speculate that the treasure was not the reason for the murder, but was what brought the murderer to Three Pines. Beauvoir says if the treasures are not the key, then the words “woo” and “Charlotte” must be. Each of the suspects, except one, would have taken at least part of the treasure because they needed the money. Vincent Gilbert was the only one who had enough money and didn’t care about the treasure. Which is when the murderer stands up and reveals himself to be…Old Mundin.

Old Mundin, whose real name is Patrick, tells us he saw a walking stick of his father’s in the the Temps Perdu antique store. He knew then his father had been murdered because he never would have parted with any of his treasures. When he learned the seller had been Olivier he moved to Three Pines. It did not take long to realize that Olivier was not his father’s murderer, but his father’s treasures kept appearing for sale. Years later after marrying Michelle, The Wife, Old saw Olivier go off into the woods after locking up one Saturday night. He decided to follow him the next time he did this and discovered the cabin. When he looked in the window he recognized all the treasures from his father’s secret collection.

First, Patrick wanted to torment the Hermit with a spider web and wood carving of the word woo. When that didn’t seem to have any effect, Patrick took a menorah and hit the Hermit over the head, killing him. He left the body, figuring Olivier would find it and keep quiet because he still wanted the treasures. Upon further questioning we find out who the Hermit really was: he was Patrick’s father who faked his own death years ago and moved himself and his treasures to Three Pines!

We end with Gamache and Beauvoir delivering Olivier back to Three Pines a free man.

The Stakeout:

The burden is too much and Beauvoir has to tell someone his story and chooses Ruth, the one person he feels won’t judge him or care.

The frustration of not being able to trace the phone call from Morin grows, and Gamache goes against orders and secretly passes a note to Beauvoir to enlist the aid of Agent Nichol, who has been placed in Communications by Gamache to learn how to listen. She agrees, but needs Gamache to pause in talking so she can listen for ambient sounds in the background.

When the one clear word they hear is La Grande, Gamache pleads with Francoeur to at least put a few people on it and alert the security at the huge hydroelectric dam.

For the first time in their conversation, Gamache hears the fear in Morin’s voice. He asks Morin if he is afraid. Everything stops in the office as the agents all stare at Gamache and listen to Morin trying to be brave. When he finally admits that he is, Gamache tells him he will find him in time, and asks Morin if he trusts him. Morin says he does. When asked if he thinks Gamache would lie to him, Morin says “No sir, never.” Each time Morin’s voice has more confidence. Gamache then tells Morin, “I will find you in time,” and asks, “Do you believe me?” When Morin says he does, Gamache tells him to never, ever forget that.

While meeting with the Société Champlain, Gamache feels his phone buzzing over and over again. When he finally checks it, he sees he has 27 missed calls and Beauvoir is on the line now. Beauvoir breaks the news that a video has been released online. We learn that Beauvoir and Nichol were able to figure out where the factory was located from the background noise and they expected to find three kidnappers there. Gamache handpicked six agents to cover the chance there were more. There were: There were more than they could possibly have anticipated. After the phone call, Gamache has some phone calls to make: first to his wife, then to the officers who survived and the families of those who didn’t.

Beauvoir heads over to Ruth’s house again, where they sit and watch the video together. Back in Quebec City, Gamache and Émile.do the same. What follows is heartbreaking. Into the breach they went, determined to save one of their own. only to find themselves outnumbered. First Beauvoir went down with a gunshot wound… then Gamache. By the end there were three dead Surete officers and four wounded. Eight kidnappers were killed, one critically injured, and one captured. The plot to blow up the La Grande dam was stopped but at a price no one knew would be so high. Not just for the loss of life.

Gamache still blames himself as he tells Tom Hancock his story. When Tom asks if he knew how the video got out, Gamache says no. When asked if he had his suspicions, Gamache remembers the rage on Francoeur’s face when Gamache told him to send help to the dam. If Gamache was wrong he would resign, but if he was right and Francoeur did nothing, he would bring him up on charges. Gamache sees another face as well: one that saw everything, that heard everything, that remembered everything.

After dropping off Olivier at the Bistro in Three Pines, Gamache goes for a solitary walk outside. He sees the image of Morin’s dead body, found too late to save him. “I’m so sorry. Forgive me” is all he can say. This time there is no answer back.

Favorite Quote

There were a number of ones to choose from, but the one that has stuck with me was when Beauvoir was about to meet with the residents of Three Pines at the Bistro to reveal the murderer:

“Like the rest of Three Pines, and its residents, it took what was coming and remained standing.”

A simple thought that has so many meanings. We can look at this as a city, a family, or a person. Life can be challenging and it is how we deal with its ups and downs that define us. Thanks to the Gamache series it is comforting for the reader to know that no matter what is going on in our hectic lives we can always come back to Three Pines, sit in the Bistro by the fire, and feel at home.

Discussion Questions

  • While talking about Renaud, Émile comments that his lack of any friends is the price of greatness. When Gamache comments that he thought Émile. and the Champlain Society considered Renaud a kook, Émile. says “Aren’t most great people? True? Is this one of the costs of greatness?
  • Gamache is struck for the first time by how interesting the English expression to “know something by heart” is. “To commit something to memory was to know it by heart. Memories were kept in the heart, not the head. At least, that’s where the English kept their memories.” Are your great memories – tell us! – stored both in your heart and head?
  • Mr. Blake comments on how the British Museum has many treasures taken from graves and says it was a good thing; otherwise they would be looted or destroyed. Gamache thinks that one civilization’s courageous action was another’s violation. Such was history and hubris. Is it good to have these treasures in museums? Should they be returned to the countries they came from?
  • General Montcalm was originally buried after his injuries and the French loss at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The nuns had buried him there because they were afraid of English reprisals. Later he was dug up and his skull and a leg bone were reburied in a crypt in the chapel. Then recently he was reburied in a mass soldiers’ grave that contained the bodies of all the men who died in that one terrible hour. French and English together for eternity. Long enough to make peace. Should they have been buried together?
  • Croix tells a quote from Horace to Gamache who then finished it. Croix says “It is sweet and right to die for your country. Magnificent.” Gamache doesn’t agree and says “It’s an old and dangerous lie. It might be necessary, but it is never sweet and rarely right. It’s a tragedy.” Who is right? Is there a right answer?
  • Were you surprised to learn that Old Mundin was the real murderer of The Hermit? Whom did you suspect?
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