Series Re-Read: The Beautiful Mystery


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.


Prologue and Ch. 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?

Introduction to 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.

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.

Ch. 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.


Anne Daphné Gamache, Matthew 10:36

“And a man’s foes, shall they be of his own household?”

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


  1. In her Acknowledgments, Louise mentions the neuroscience of music, its effect on her creativity, its effects on our brains. How does listening to music—and what music you listen to—affect you?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. Depending on how you answered that, do you read other authors’ mysteries differently?
  1. 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?
  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?
  1. 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).
  1. 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?
  1. Did you exit this book hardly able to wait until Louise’s next? If so, why?
  1. “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?
  1. 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?

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 » . . .


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.


AuthorBARBARA PETERS holds a BA from Stanford University, MA from Northwestern University, MSLS from the University of Tennessee and is the founder of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

248 replies on “Series Re-Read: The Beautiful Mystery”

Hi! I just started reading the series. I was wondering if I missed it, but did Gamache come to know about Annie and Jean-Guy?

I am very upset and angry at the author for making Jean Guy into such a weak character. I am taking a break from the series until I can deal with it!

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I’m writing this, for the 2nd time, during a bad thunder storm. I don’t know if my first unfinished attempt will get posted or not, so I’ll try to get this one completed before the lights go off again.
There seems to be some ill-ease about the timing of the singing of the chant written by Prior Mathieu during the consecration of the host. But I ask you, at what other point in the story would it have been more effective?
Inspector Gamache solves crimes by getting into the minds of the suspects. He listens, ask questions, but most of all he observes. He may not have known who the killer was as yet but he knew two things: he had to solve this case quickly so he could get Jean Guy away from the island and he knew that whoever the killer was the killer considered Prior Mathieu’s changes to the chants to be a mockery of something he considered holy. So at what better time than during the holiest part of the mass to sing something so un-holy? At what better time to rip at the heart of a holy man who considered the chants to be the voice of God than to have that voice mocked?
As for Frere Sebastien (if this were a real life situation) refusing to do as Gamache asked, I think any priest would have agreed to do it to catch the killer. After all Frere Sebastien was not above lying/sinning because he does it by omission when he hides the true purpose for his visit. Just because someone is a priest doesn’t mean he can’t see the world as it truly is and wouldn’t understand the urgency to have the killer reveal himself.
As for “behold he is man” Frere Luc admits he said it as he killed Prior Mathieu. He says it because he felt Mathieu viewed the chants as he did, holy, the voice of God on earth. He thought Mathieu was the divine interpreter of the music. When Mathieu not only brings him the change he has made to the music but wants him to add the notes he is shocked and sees Mathieu’s ego as the source of the abomination.
The Latin words used by Mathieu were chosen because they fit the notes of the music and would help whoever was writing the notes in to know which notes to use. The words were not meant to be disrespectful nor permanent, only to fit the music as it was to be sung so the notes could be added. All of the monks admit their reading/understanding of Latin is very poor.
Sorry my comments are so late in the discussion but I hope they help.
To Mrs. Penny – Please, please write faster! I’ve fallen in love with these characters and hate the thought there is only one more book to finish before the drought.
Anyone who would like to read the first 80 or so pages of the new book will find them on Amazon.

Ecce homo has always meant “Behold The Man” to me. I had never considered the implication that Pilate meant Jesus was only a man. Thanks for the insight.
When I first read The Beautiful Mystery, I translated “entre les loups” as” between the wolves” rather than” among”. Thought that must be my faulty French until I read that it really was “between the wolves”. The First Nations’ story of the two wolves fighting and the winner being the one I feed was profound. I often think about which one I am feeding. Not only good and evil but happiness or sorrow, contentment or resentment and hope or despair.
Even as a child I wanted to write. I do not have the self-confidence nor thick skin to bear having my thoughts and words examined. A letter to the editor of our local newspaper resulted in one person completely misinterpreting it and made me very cautious.
Thank you to everyone who has participated in the entire reread. I have learned much, been given new lines of thought and enjoyed it so very much. Non-readers do not understand that a fictional characters could become so important. A well-written book is much like a dear friend. Reading enriches our lives in many ways.
I too read many genres for different reasons. I read the George R. R. Martin series, when his last book was published, just to see why there were so many devoted fans. The research must be a near impossible undertaking. I enjoyed the creative combinations of customs, dress, myths, geography and history. Recognizing their origins was exciting.
I wish more rereads could be done for authors– no suggestions.

I just don’t get this business about Pontius Pilate supposedly denying Christ’s divinity!!! Pilate was a civil appointment – sent by Rome to govern the territory. He was NOT a religious authority. The crowd passed the buck by attempting to get the local legal authority to make a civil judgement about a religious issue. This was NOT in Pilate’s purview by any stretch of the imagination.

Pilate did not make a judgement about Christ’s humanity or divinity. He simply said to the crowd (who was seeking a civil decision on a religious issue) – Look – here’s the guy you want me to punish/execute. i.e “Ecce homo” – “Behold the man” – that you accuse. I (Pilate) can find no evidence of his ‘guilt’. I can’t do what you ask of me. This is not a governmental issue within the powers of my office! _ Kind of like asking the mayor or governor of a town today to make a statement/judgement about a theological issue which has nothing to do with civic law or practices.
I really challenge any of you who think Pilate is making a religious statement with “Ecce homo” – to ask your own priest, pastor, reverend about this! Critical reading skills again!

It’s just my interpretation Meg so of course it can be wrong. The discussion itself may be more for a cuppa by the fire as it is religiously and historically detailed and may not appeal to all who walk here. But it made sense to me and then lead me to other thoughts. At the very least it has made me think so thank you.

As you say, Pilate was the civil authority, and not a nice fellow by all accounts, but he was put in a bind by the Jews who wanted to kill Jesus but couldn’t get away with it themselves with all the Romans in town. So they go to Pilate, Rome’s rep and ask him to kill Jesus. But there isn’t any evidence Pilate can use to condemn him as a civil charge. In private Jesus explains to Pilate that the kingdom he rules is not on earth and Pilate’s wife sends the message Jesus is a “righteous man”. So even with the question of “What is the Truth” rhetorically unanswered to any real degree, Pilate handed Jesus over to be killed.

I think Pilate knew full well he was innocent of any civil charge and, then or later, came to believe he was even perhaps Divine, but he washed his hands, dodged the religious issue and presented “Just a man” to the crowd. If he had declared him Divine I wonder what would have happened???

Pilate wasn’t a religious authority and he wasn’t Jewish. But on a civil level, Pilate’s area of authority, Jesus had no guilt yet Pilate allowed him to be crucified, a Roman punishment not the local punishment of being stoned.

At the very least Pilate dodged the issue of who Jesus was or purported to be, at worst he was denying Jesus divinity and throwing him to the wolves.

It is difficult to know for sure. Now you make me think about it, is Francouer more like Pilate or the Jewish crowd baying for blood? Is the evil greater in those who call for killing or those who stand by and let it happen? I’m leaning toward the former.

Meg, Maybe I’m not meant to post as this is the fourth time I’ve tried. I guess that makes me hard headed too(not new information). I’ve moved to a table now so maybe it will be better than typing in my lap.
I’m glad to see you stand for what you believe. It is seldom seen today. I’ll take your advice and ask one on staff at my church(Baptist) and maybe a friend of my sister who is a retired minister. Wonder if they will be in agreement. I know I shouldn’t joke but just had to.
Isn’t it wonderful that we can discuss religion with freedom.
Regardless of our interpretation of Pilate’s intent, I think Christians can agree that Christ was the Son of God. That’s important to me.
I look forward to reading your postings on How the Light Gets In.

Hi Barabara. I know what you mean about not wanting to write because you lack confidence. I know exactly. I am trying to write again. I started just for me. The problem is I am almost too scared to put what is in my head into print for fear that it will become rubbish simply by writing it down.

It is hard to put opinions out there even in this forum. I wouldn’t want my ramblings to be “judged” as silly or worse, offensive. That is why I think Louise is very brave.

Thank you for the respectful way we have all been treated as we contribute. It has been a safe space so that everyone can put their ideas forth and even disagree. I am glad you have contributed Barbara. I hope you start to write again. Even if at first you lock your writings away, maybe you will one day join a writers group?

Anna, thanks for the good words and encouragement. I hope you will gain more confidence and be able to share your writing. A dear friend, now deceased, shared her writing (short stories) with a group on the internet. I don’t remember the site name.
Maybe I’ll try a short story. Not as daunting as a novel or even a short novel would be.
I’d better get to reading for tomorrow’s discussion.

Drive carefully to the airport Meg!

What a lovely experience Betty. I bet whenever you read this book that music will return. I agree with the tension in this book. Francouer prowls the edges like evil waiting. There is one section where Gamache sees him slipping around the edges of the chapel and I saw a poisonous snake in my mind.

The tension and feeling of menace made me think of the Hadley House when it was evil personified. Now evil is incarnate and on the prowl. I don’t think a makeover is going to be enough this time to banish the demon.

Hey, Anna! Airport drives very slow and uneventful because of soooooo many road construction projects! Arrived at destination – finally and safely – and we managed to get supper together for Mum. Am hoping to get first half of book #9 read this weekend.

ANOTHER MEG QUESTION: We’re doing “How the Light Gets In” from August 11 to 22. We’re supposed to begin “Long Way” the following Monday on the 25th. Book won’t be in to my Barnes & Noble until the 26th. Will it be released earlier elsewhere?

About to get on road myself Meg for drive to city. Road construction is a bear.

From what I can see the release date for Long Way Home is August 26 so um, not sure what we will discuss day one but that has never stopped us finding something to say. Still, very exciting!

On my first reading, I felt The Beautiful Mystery was my favorite of the series up to that time. I have had a keen interest in plainsong and chanting for quite some time so I was very focused on the information about how the chants developed. Last week I visited in Santa Fe, NM and attended a weekly Taize service. The music was incredible. The chants were repeated three times, but the fourth round featured a soprano who was literally using her voice to dance in and around the chants. It was beautiful. I mention this because I thought of Brother Mathieu’s new chants and wondered if what he composed might have sounded as glorious as what I was listening to. But in reading The Beautiful Mystery for this discussion, I no longer was focused primarily on the music and mystery. I found the tension so great when Francoeur enters the monastery, it was almost difficult to read, especially since I knew what was coming in How The Light Gets In. As I have reread all the books for this discussion, I’m finding so many themes and layers that I think I missed on the first readings. I so appreciate this opportunity to read the Introductions and comments from fellow readers. This has been a great reading experience!

I just finished this … As an audio book … And found myself calling the plane back. Thinking it has to turn around. But of course not. So, now I am eager to start How The Light Gets In. I have read/listened to all so far have completed many knitted projects along the way! Here goes…settling in tonight…Chapter One.
Thanks for all the great comments!

Apologies. My comment is well displaced from where it should be!

Meg R I am very impressed by your research and thinking. I am processing.

I am not sure I like Yvette but I understand her much better and have a respect for her situation. She probably isn’t my first choice as coffee companion because she can be very prickly.

(First a disclaimer or explanation: I was raised as a Roman Catholic – back during the times of the Latin Mass. Actually can still remember, recite or sing [although very much off-key] prayers, hymns and songs in Latin. Was immersed in it and actually had four years of Latin in high school too. I don’t claim to be a Latin expert by any stretch of the imagination, but some of it did stick.)

When I read that the abbot and Frere Antoine figured out that Prior Mattieu’s last words were “Ecce homo” – I was totally confused by why he would have said that. Then, even more confused when the abbot translated it as “He is man”.

The absolutely only time I have heard this sentence EVER – has been in one very specific situation. So, still confused, I emailed a friend, Professor Ginny – a Latin expert. I wanted to know if there was an alternate translation to the one I knew. Here’s what she wrote back:

Yes you are right, “ecce” means ” Behold! Lo! See!”   It’s used to indicate a thing or person present, or to draw attention to a point.  It definitely means “Behold the man.” and is attributed to Pontius Pilate. In the Clementine Vulgate,   John 19.4: “Exivit ergo iterum Pilatus foras, et dicit eis: Ecce adduco vobis eum foras, ut cognoscatis quia nullam invenio in eo causam. [5] (Exivit ergo Jesus portans coronam spineam, et purpureum vestimentum.) Et dicit eis: Ecce homo.” (translation next)

“Pilate therefore went forth again, and said to them: Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no cause in him. [5] (Jesus therefore came forth, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment.) And he (Pilate) said to them: Behold the Man.”

Now here I suppose depending on what translation one uses, and how untraditional or sloppy depending on your mindset one translates, I guess one could say “this is the man” instead of “behold” or “lo” or “see” or something similar. [ I asked if ‘homo est” wouldn’t be the Latin for “He is Man.” She replied] “Homo est” is “he is a man” or possibly “the man”, not, to my thinking quite the same thing, nor is “”He is man, ” which seems to carry a bit of extrapolation if I understand what is meant there.
But you are right, it’s behold, traditionally.

So…….. Just what was Brother Luke (Luc) saying or mean when he said, “Ecce homo?” Practically every Catholic of a certain age (:-} knows this sentence and its source – i.e. Pilate to crowd, “Behold, the man.” (Jesus) whom they want Pilate to punish. Suspect most Catholic religious men & women also know this too. What did Luc mean? Why on earth would the abbot of all people mistranslate it?

• Behold the man who you have destroyed (M to L)?
• Behold the man ( M sarcastically to his inferior L)?
• Behold me, the man who has/will stop you from desecrating the chant? (L to M)?
* Behold the man, (sarcastically) referring to Matthieu who is no longer Luc’s idol – but a flawed human with feet of clay? (L to M)?
• Behold the man, – you might meet your maker in a few minutes? (L to M)?
* Or something else?

This one just boggled my brains – or what’s left of them. Any help?

It wasn’t Frere Luc who said “Ecce homo”, it was Frere Mathieu just before he died. He said it to Frere Simon. Frere Luc was long gone by then. I don’t know if that helps explain what he meant by saying that phrase.

Don’t have my book handy right now (in transit), but I seem to recall (which also may be the result of a faulty memory too!) – that Luc said “Ecce homo” to the prior – who repeated it as he died to Simon. That’s why I’m so confused about 1.) the translation and 2.)why was it said/ what was intended or meant. Yeah, this is like an annoying hangnail that just pesters! :~}

Meg, Luc said that he said it because Matthieu wasn’t the man he thought he was, to which the abbot replied that he wasn’t the saint he’d thought he was. To me, the phrase has always meant “behold, he’s a man” with “not a god” implied. When Matthieu disappointed Luc, he tumbled from saint status to “just a man”, and so the phrase was apt.

I have to agree Julie. To me when Pilate said the phrase he was trying to say, Jesus is just a man revealed, he is not special.

I could imagine Francouer saying that about Gamache. Which lead me to other thoughts. Good people are often reviled. Gamache is hated by Francouer because he can not be controlled and manipulated. To Francouer he is a rouge beast intent on destroying the plans he and Arnot etc have made. But I suspect more than anything it is the failure to control him that burns and irritates. So they pick on Jean Guy instead as a hostage.

I have seen in my own world good people being bought down because they put what is right above what is demanded from them when those demands would hurt people or just be plain wrong. Allowing Arnot to get away fell into that category but that wasn’t the real point…..Gamache wouldn’t do what he was told.

I can hear Francouer in my mind crying out with derision as he tears at Gamache…..He is just a man and men I can destroy.

I can imagine Gamache saying, yes, it am just a man in all my fragility. I pretend to be nothing else. All I achieve is as a simple man.

In each of these stories the overarching themes resonate. Did anyone else notice the parallel with the cracks in the foundations……did they, in the end, let the light in?


Ladies, first – whoever commented on my “scholarship and research” – not an issue here. I didn’t look anything up. I had 4 years of Latin almost 50 years ago. Was raised in the Catholic church during time of Latin Mass – so much of that has become indelibly recorded in the DVD in my brain – kind of like “Three Blind Mice”, other nursery rhymes or songs that become ear worms, ect. It’s just there. Every Lenten season “Ecce homo” was read on Good Friday. In the posting above – Q#2 – paragraphs 4,5 & 6 are from a Latin professor that I know and contacted because I have never heard of “Ecce homo” being translated as anything other than “Behold the man.” I was honestly trying to see if there was another interp of that. The only thing I inserted in her response in paragraphs 4,5 & 6 is the short bit in brackets [I asked. . . . .She replied.]

Biblically, the crowd has demanded that Pilate punish/execute Christ as the civil – legal authority in the area because they claim that he claims to be the king of the Jews. Pilate has Jesus brought forth before all of them and tells them in effect – Look! Behold this man. I can’t find fault or evidence that he is guilty of anything. In effect, passing the buck for judgement on what seemed to be a religious issue. Pilate’s not saying that Jesus is just a man; he doesn’t address issues of divinity – only civil/legal ones as Rome’s representative).

Luc DOES admit to saying this to the prior when he makes his confession on p.365.

“Ecce homo,” said the abbot. “Why did Mathieu say that when he was dying?”
(My parenthesis here: Luc said:) “It’s what I said when I hit him.”
. . . ..”He wasn’t the man I thought he was.”

Pilate utters the phrase to indicate that he finds no evidence of guilt. Again, I’m just not really clear about just why Luc would say it. Did he see himself as the ultimate civil/legal authority and find Mathieu guilty? And still – why on earth would the abbot ever mis-translate something that most lay Catholics know – and all religious do?

I am in no way qualified to interpret the phrase theologically other than as a Catholic who has also heard it many times. My own personal interpretation has been to see Pilate’s words and actions as a cowardly way to diminish Christ by declaring him no more than a man, not Christ on Earth. By doing so Pilate knew full well he would still be punished by the crowd but Pilate himself was able to wash his hands of what was to follow by seemingly declaring Jesus innocent.

And yet that was God’s achievement to walk on earth as a mere man.

I think that gels with what you said, that Pilate declared the man innocent but dodged the issue of whether that in itself made him guilty of …….religious misrepresentation perhaps……. in the eyes of the crowd.

So the reference in the novel is about the disappointment in someone not being what you thought. Whether then to kill them is as a judgement of guilt or out of pique at that disappointment?

My reference to Gamache was that mere men are capable of great and good things which can make them the target of those that have other evil intentions. Was Gamache at risk of a similar fate, to be tossed to the crowd as misrepresenting himself as some great protector of the people? Is Francouer laughing, thinking that having shown Gamache can not protect Jean Guy, he has proven Armand is nothing more than a man, with no special abilities to gather and keep safe his flock?

Do any of the multiple meanings I read into these books occur deliberately or subconsciously to Louise as she writes, or is it all me making personal connections.

Fascinating discussion about “Ecce Homo” and parallels in the story lines/characters. It’s a lot to think about, but some great ideas!

Go, Anna!!!!! Three Cheers! Just love it when someone else gives me something to think about! Am packing laptop to head to airport to pick up incoming family. You woke my brain up – even before coffee! A MAJOR achievement! (laughing lots! – Will come back later today!

Anna -love the different thoughts you’ve brought up about the cracks in the foundation, how the light gets in, Gamache and Francoeur’s stand-off! I tend not to be such a deep thinker, I somehow absorb some of these things by “osmosis”, I think, without thinking them through, but you often manage to articulate exactly what I mean! I knew SOMEBODY must be thinking here, hahaha. I think that Louise Penny meant every single thing you said – that it’s not just an accident – she IS a deep thinker, and connects all those threads so expertly.

Hi Julie. I feel the same way when someone else makes a point I connect with. I think when we are reading and enjoying we absorb so much more meaning than we realise. It is only through discussions like this that we draw on that subconscious revelation and make it conscious.

I think Louise Penny is a very clever writer and I am sure she does make inferences and understands the connections she subtly weaves through both each book and the overall story. It amazes and humbles me.

How much fun is it to share ideas. Do you think the publishers could organise a physical conference for us one day at some cosy Canadian location, where we could plop in armchairs by the fire and chat? Perhaps for Louise’s next release…..

Oh, wouldn’t that be fun! I nominate Manoir Bellechasse or the Bistro for a spot by the fire!

Okay – here’s my last word on this subject, hahaha. I quote Jesus Christ Superstar not because I have any idea that this is an accurate representation of what is in the bible. I surely don’t. But I know that it shows somewhat what is in the popular culture now, as well as showing that even the Latin version of the bible is someone’s translation and the someone had an agenda. So it’s pointless to wonder what Pilate meant, because we can’t find that in the bible. We have someone’s version of someone’s version of what Pilate meant. That established, I think it’s reasonable to turn to what the modern popular culture thinks that the phrase Ecce Homo means, and I think it’s fairly safe to say that this is up for debate! 😀

This interpretation, from JC Superstar, is the one that I am familiar with, and I think you’d find a lot of people today who think the same:

Who is this broken man cluttering up my hallway?
Who is this unfortunate?

Someone Christ – king of the Jews

Oh so this is Jesus Christ, I am really quite surprised
You look so small – not a king at all
We all know that you are news – but are you king
King of the Jews?

That’s what you say

What do you mean by that? That is not an answer
You’re deep in trouble friend –
Someone Christ – king of the Jews
How can someone in your state be so cool about your fate?
An amazing thing – this silent king
Since you come from Galilee then you need not come to me
You’re Herod’s race! You’re Herod’s case!

Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Ho
Sanna Hey Sanna Ho and how
Hey JC, JC please explain to me
You had everything where is it now?

While not addressing the Ecce Homo phrase directly, this verse gives us the idea that Pilate questioned whether Jesus Christ was a “king” or if he was “just a man”. I think this is so firmly in the popular culture that it could be what Louise meant for Luc to be saying. I think this is a reasonable assumption. I also know that everyone brings their own experiences to the reading of the book, as we’ve been discussing, and that different interpretations are out there. I just wanted to show you the valid reasons behind my thinking.

It wasn’t Frere Luc who said “Ecce homo”, it was Frere Mathieu just before he died, and he said it to Frere Simon. However, I don’t really understand why he said it. It was certainly obvious that a man had attacked him and his imminent death was not natural.

QUESTION#1 – Frere Sebastien slowly and solemnly walks up to the altar in the chapel singing “I can’t hear you. . . .I have a banana in my ear. . . . I am not a fish. . . .I am not a fish.” to the tune of Prior Matthieu’s music. Okay. Fine. Evidently he’s working with Gamache by doing so – BUT whose choice was the timing of this performance?

Sebastien IS a representative of the Pope/ the Vatican, a Roman Catholic priest or monk or brother. Why would he do this during the MOST solemn and SACRED portion of the Mass – during the consecration of the host and wine – which the Abbot has just raised as “the body and blood of Christ”?

Would a member of the Vatican hierarchy staff commit such a public sacrilege? – or the abbot allow it? or Gamache endorse it? Timing of this is very suspect – and unexplained.

Meg, I think it was the only way Gamache could think of to flush out the murderer. He was under a severe time constraint, as Etienne, the boatman would be arriving very soon. He wanted to get the murder solved so he could leave with Beauvoir. At least that’s what he hoped to do. I think we have to give Louise a little license here to get her story wrapped up.

I think he would have done almost anything to reveal the killer and don’t believe it seemed unreal or contrived. The holy sacrament is all about life through Jesus Christ. Revealing the person who usurped God by taking a life would seem to be just as sacred.

Sylvia and Linda,

Actually, I don’t think that we have to “give Louise a little license here” – if we are critical and objective readers. She chose to create the setting for this story in a Catholic monastery. She chose to make most of its characters (other than Armand, Jean-Guy, Annie and Francouer) Catholic priests, monks and brothers. She chose to have a musical form (the chants) that was developed by the Catholic church as a primary element in this story. She chose to research and provide the background story of the obscure Catholic Gilbertine order in this too. She chose to have a representative from the highest Papal hierarchy arrive (deus ex machina) – or rather by single-handedly rowing up the river & lake. This story is immersed in Catholicism.

I have absolutely no problem with the method of revealing ‘whodunit’ or with the urgency to make that discovery in order for Gamache to try to get Beauvoir out & away from Francoeur asap. What I do have a problem with – is deliberate and actual timing that she chose for that reveal. Time-wise, the consecration of the host and wine come midpoint in a Mass. Brother Seb could have come singing down that aisle any time during the first half — or any time after the most sacred portion of the service. Instead – she deliberately chose the moment of consecration – by indicating that the abbot raised the host and goblet of wine with the words “the body and blood of Christ’ for Sebastien to make his grand entrance. Mrs. Penny exactly marked that moment for her readers with the abbots actions and words. If she had left those two out I don’t think the reveal would have been as offensive & would still have been dramatic and follow her suspense line.

I’m sorry. Absolutely No papal representative, absolutely no priest saying Mass, or any religious monk or nun would condone an interruption at such a point and it would almost or most likely be considered a sacrilege. I’m also sorry, but I do not believe that Armand would have condoned such disrespect either and endorsed the timing before hand – or that the abbot would have either. Yeah, this is Meg the Reader responding here – not Meg a fan. In a way, these choices also make me want to consider comments made by another responder earlier about anti-Catholicism in Quebec too.

Meg, I like to be an informed reader not a fan. I think the latter implies a lack of criticism where a reader is perfectly able to critique and evaluate. I can see your point.

It is interesting how deep our responses are to what Louise has written. It does show we care a lot about the world she creates and the people. In essence we desire them to be “true to themselves” even as created beings.

In so many books that I read incongruities are just badly written and I gloss over them. With Louise, I am more invested. That leaves her with a big responsibility with all these dear readers poring over her work. Not easy I imagine.

Are you disappointed, shocked, or just surprised that the persons you thought you knew so well, i.e. The Abbott, Gamache, et al, would behave in a manner you found to be so sacrilegious? It doesn’t work to say you don’t believe it could happen as even in real life we can rarely be certain what friends or acquaintances will do when we are not around, especially in unusual or extreme circumstances.

As well, while these monks may have been used to liturgical Latin, if you’ll recall, it was determined that most wouldn’t know how to translate anything about bananas in their ears. It really was about the music that was described as beautiful and soaring and joyous. If one doesn’t know the words, they become just sounds like the “om” of meditation.

At any rate, here we are on opposite sides, but you are great fun to talk to over the fence. I like that you cause me to stop and ponder and think.

Meg, I apologize! To be honest, I read it too quickly to notice what was happening in the service when Frere Sebastien made his entrance. Yes, I do think it was a sacrilege to place it just at that point in the Mass. I am not Catholic myself, but Holy Communion is the most precious sacrament. The singing and subsequent revelation could have come at some other point in the service, however it may not have had the same impact. Now that you have brought this to our attention, I will go back and read that scene again.

Barbara, I just watched your second video with Louise last night and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks so much for making these. (I also noticed a while back that you publish Steven Havill, another of my favorite authors. Although it’s very different from Louise I love his characters very much and look forward to each new book.)

I love the Henry James quote. Thank you Cathryne. To me, the two quotes mean essentially the same thing. As humans we are the sum of our experiences, they inform our actions and our dreams. Past events modify our response to future decisions.

When we read well written novels they not only add to the sum total of our experiences, but the reading of the story is influenced by who we are and what has happened to us. We connect to characters because what they say and do resonates with our own experience. Through that connection we have an opportunity to evaluate our own response and feelings in the context of who we are.

“Why do I react so viscerally to Francouer?” I ask myself. Who has hurt me so much?
“Why does Agent Nichol irritate and confuse me?”
“Why do I want to go to Three Pines so badly”

I wonder if everyone, not the devoted readers here because I know they do, but the many others who read these novels respond the way we do? Is it solely a quality of the novels or also a quality of a readership that is capable of such introspection and self examination? There is no doubt in my mind that Louise Penny novels are special. I don’t respond this way to every author and I read a lot of books. But I also wonder if not every reader is the same.

I think you’ll discover why Yvette Nichol irritates and confuses you, and then grow to like her. I did.

#5. I like the quote very much. “…their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experiences of the reader.” I’m going to have to think about it for a while. Henry James said that the purpose of the novel is “…to help the heart of man know itself.” Louise Penny’s novels have helped me know my heart better for sure. I think these two quotes are related and it will be interesting to ponder how.


Barbara, I read this Q with some amusement. According to Webster-Merriman a ‘fan’ or ‘fanatic’ is someone or something “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” (This reminds me of extremists in religion, politics, sports, talk radio etc.!!)

I sure hope that we’re not uncritical or unobjective readers! Fan to me implies a lapse in logic, a follow the herd mentality, a join the choir and sing Amens to whatever is preached. The word implies an extremism to me and I don’t think I can read uncritically, unthinkingly, blindly accepting of whatever is printed.

I am an eclectic reader. Gobble down those drugstore books – romances, adventure, mystery, popular fiction – like popcorn or like a made for tv movie. Quick entertainment that’s forgotten the next day. Also really like many international writers & Nobelists and classics and a really varied hodgepodge of authors. L. Penny is a recent addition to the long list. Really like using critical thinking skills when I read because those are what force me to really examine my ideas in a new light, to consider other view points, to be open to new surprises – instead of just reading stuff to reinforce what I already know.

To me, being labeled a ‘fan’ is a bit of an insult – to me and to the authors I read. Would you ever want anything you’ve ever said or written to be taken as infallible? as perfection? as an ultimate truth? – or something else? I think I’d prefer to have my words start a discussion to expand ideas. When I read anything – for entertainment, information, new experiences etc., – I respect the labors, efforts, multiple revisions and fine tuning that authors do in order to clearly state and share their ideas, experiences, perceptions,, observations of life with others. I take it as a given that the offerings of writers are gifts to expand what I ‘ve accumulated head and heart-wise as I’ve traveled through this life. A fan? No! A Reader? Yes!!!
Does this make any sense?

I too have loved re reading them and revelling in the characters. The books are so rich. And it is is such a treat to close one book and immediately start the next and pick up the story right away. When I finished how the light gets in last year (having sat in a chair for five hours with out moving to do so) I emailed the friend who introduced me to ms penny, exclaiming, she’s genius. Did she really have the whole series plotted out from the first book? Does anyone know?

With all the tension present in The Beautiful Mystery, I absolutely loved Louise’s quick Monty Python reference! I burst out laughing and still chuckle about it. “No one expects the Inquisition.”

Libby – I loved that too! I love the unexpected humor in these book that makes me laugh, even in the midst of darkness.

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