LOUISE PENNY’S

Series Re-Read: The Beautiful Mystery

INTRODUCTION BY BARBARA PETERS

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 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.

FAVORITE QUOTE

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

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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


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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.


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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”

Music is so important in my life. As a very young person I walked the dog of a neighbor, a retired music teacher. Every Saturday, after bringing the dog back home to her, we would listen to the opera from the Metropolitan on the radio. She knew that I had been singing in the church and all-city choirs since the second grade and our church choir director had trained at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Several years ago, i sang in an all women’s choir at my parish where we learned the music of Hildegaard of Bingen — the most difficult music I have ever had to learn because there is no known notation dating from the time it was written. It is learned and sung using what we think it should should like. I love music in the background and tend to listen to classical when I am trying to study or when I am doing work that takes a great deal of concentration. Jazz has the same effect on me, it jangles the nerves rather than calming them.
Also, having spent many summers of my childhood in woods of Northern Ontario, I had a vision of the lakes and forests that really enhanced my journey through this book.
One of the absolute joys of reading Louise’s books, is that you are on a continuing story line. The characters from the first story are a part of the next book and you learn more about each person as the stories develops. It was surprising to see Annie with Jean-Guy, but when you realize that both are very damaged people it begins to make sense. I can also understand why they choose to keep this relationship confidential — both love Gamache and do not want to hurt him, especially if the relationship is to falter.
Barbara, I loved your mathematical analogy of how mysteries are written, ads I have seen the patterns described but this makes it easier to pinpoint.
Louise has taken us to Montreal, Quebec City, and now to the deep North Woods. I love the stories placed in Three Pines, it feels like home, but in order to understand why this village is a refuge, you have to understand what the rest of Quebec is and can be like.
There are several authors books that I always read the last page, even before I start the book. Not Louise’s books. I do try to figure out the story line and to see if I have the murderer discovered before the last page. There are several authors who write, what I consider formula books — where if you change the settings, character names, an bits of the plot — you have your next novel. Louise writes for the intelligent reader with story lines that are plausible and interesting and engaging.
The more I read this book, the more I wanted to know about these men who had chose to move to this monastery. What was the motivation and really how deep was their faith?
I thought that this book would finally give us the real story behind Gamache, the Surete, and Francoeur. It only added to the mystery and is one of the reasons I can never put one of Louise’s books down, often reading well into the night!
Rereading the books just whets my appetite for the newest book to be released — there are so many threads still to be followed.

Karen,

For a while there, I forgot that Francoeur appeared in this book – until I hit Chapter 17. As I read those leading up to it, and reread Jean-Guy and Armand’s discussions about motives and the division of abbotmen and priormen, and issues of power plays – I kept thinking over and over that they (or especially Gamache) could also be talking about Francoeur and his slimey schemes. We know Francoeur wasn’t happy about Gamache catching his stooge Lemieux. Think we all suspect that he was also instrumental in releasing that hurtful video of the factory raid. We know he’s most likely still tied up with/in with that despicable Arnot. Felt like I wanted to douse him with Dawn grease-fighting dish detergent when he slid off of that plane and gave Gamache three public and metaphoric face slaps.
It’s coming back to me just what he does in second half of the book. Louise really sets her readers up to see the Francouer-Gamache power play through that of Dom Phillipe and Prior Mattieu – even before Slimeball Sylvian dive bombs the monastery in the beginning of our last chapter for this week.

Meg,
From “Still Life” forward, I have wondered what happened to cause Gamache so much pain. We see him as the leader, the father figure, the teacher and we forget that something really terrible has happened to him.
It was like a kick in th gut when Francoeur showed up at the monastery. Your term, “slimeball” truly fits him. You know that no good is going to come out of this appearance. I was fearful for Gamache and Jean-Guy.
Fancoeur knows that Armand has his number and he is going to play the trump card before Gamache has a chance to act.
This is the beauty of Louise’s books — we are kept on the edge of out seats but every so delicately!!

Karen,

Don’t you remember the Indian woman that Armand found sitting outside of headquarters or a hotel and her stories of just what Arnot, his cronies and Francoeur and friends had done? Gamache’s exposure of their crimes resulted in Arnot’s imprisonment. Francoeur’s one of the henchman left behind to wreck revenge. Forgot which earlier book revealed the Arnot story, but we’ve seen reference wisps of it in books that followed. Revealing Arnot & gang’s betrayal of just what the Surete was to stand for – is one of the pains Armand continues to bear – as well as knowing that remnants of that ‘gang’ are still in power (like Francoeur) ready to get even with Gamache for revealing their crimes to the public and for tarnishing their reputations/positions/ power.

I’ve been sitting on an article I found, when I first thought about that Cree woman who sought help. I knew I’d read a book when I was younger, about an essentially white town that had closed ranks when three of it’s young men had murdered a young native woman. In looking for that, I found this website, which certainly makes the Cree woman’s claims all the more believable.

http://blackcoffeepoet.com/2011/02/14/breaking-the-silence-about-canadas-missing-and-murdered-aboriginal-women-an-interview-with-eden-robinson-and-a-review-of-conspiracy-of-silence/

If that link is broken, try this one:
http://tinyurl.com/k5m7ql5

Julie,

Thank you for the two links below. The article fleshes out our understanding of the atmosphere of the Arnot gang crimes.

I admit I do not analyze the structure of mystery books and don’t usually even try to figure out who did it. My favorite mystery writers create a world that I immerse myself in for a time and I am usually sorry to leave that world when the story plays out . Sometimes I purposely find out who did the deed so that I can read more slowly and enjoy. That said, this book bothered me because of its hostility to religion (Though I think that is present in other Penney books and present somewhat in Quebecois culture). It did not annoy me as much in the other books as it did in this book. I also found the idea that anyone would poach monks for the monastery ludicrous. Monasteries do invite others to join them, but they don’t go out to recruit particular people, especially people under vows in another order. Also monasteries in general are very welcoming of guests and so it was quite puzzling that the monastery in the book rejected them. These things seemed inauthentic and diminished my enjoyment of the book.

Jane,

TREATMENT OF RELIGION: Many of the points that you raise about the “hostility to religion” are valid ones. Most of these expressions come from Jean-Guy, who like so many contemporaries, have become disenchanted with the strictures of the Church. Think pedophiliac issues of the past years and recent revelations about infants taken from unwed mothers in the past have contributed to this. So many people seek and find God in other ways than the rigid dogmas of traditional religion. Like anything else – especially if carried to the extreme, formal religions can be spiritually rewarding and/or very harmful and damaging. I noticed in earlier books that swear words were French versions of church terms and I couldn’t understand why saying “tabernacle” was a cuss word. This book gave some insight into that slang usage.

MONKS: You also mention something about not understanding why the Gilbertines were so cloistered and never extended hospitality to visitors. Don’t know your religious experiences, but I grew up with a Capuchin/Franciscan monastery as part of my childhood and youth. Two really different experiences:
1. A good friend joined a Carmelite order right out of college. She chose this group and ‘enlisted.’ It was a convent also under a vow of silence. They did not accept visitors or guests. Family contact occurred only once a year. In effect, like the Gilbertines, she was isolated from the world completely – except for those short annual visits. So, a contemplative order like these two is not really that unusual.
2. On the other hand, the Capuchins were like additional uncles and some of them unofficial parts of our family. My father occasionally taught a class at their seminary. Two of them especially visited our home frequently. We ‘kids’ were assigned task of making sure coffee pot was full and platter of homemade baked goods and those windmill cookies with almond slices were replenished! When Easter came, there was always an obscenity of humongous chocolate rabbits, eggs, crosses etc. delivered by them – so much so – that most of us ‘kids’ didn’t want to see or eat chocolate – for at least two weeks afterwards! These monks and priests were part of the community and involved with it. Those two I mentioned were friends with most of us until both eventually passed on.

Yes, they were just men – with the strengths, weaknesses and foibles that most two-legged humans have, but each of them chose the religious path for themselves. They didn’t ‘preach’ at us or admonish us. Like Gamache, they led by example and by how they treated others.

I honestly don’t think that Louise is being disrespectful of religion (esp. the Catholic Church), but that she is mirroring social attitudes of our times. Through Jean-Guy, she gives us a path to follow to understand his attitudes about this. Does this make any sense?

I agree that Penny is not being disrespectful, but rather, giving the climate of the province. There was a Quiet Revolution in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Church attendance fell from some 80 to 90% i n 1960 to around 8% of the population of Quebec now. This is a major decline. So, I think that the “anti-church” feelings being expressed are what most young people in Quebec feel – this is simply historically correct. You can read a lot about this Quiet Revolution by googling that term. It’s of course, much more complex than I have made it out to be, but it does accurately reflect the feeling in Quebec today.

Yes, the anti-religion in Quebec is part of the current culture. For centuries the people were ruled by the priests, as Quebec is predominantly Catholic. For a long time, it was much easier to blame the English for the lack of progress the Francophones were making, but eventually they dared to admit it had been the Church that had kept them ignorant. That’s largely, I think, what brought about the Quiet Revolution. All of that, plus the scandals of abuses of various sorts, turned many away from the Catholic church in Quebec. Beauvoir is a child of that time. While Gamache doesn’t’t attend church, he does have more respect for it.

I have been to Quebec twice – both times for French immersion. Louise’s portrayal of religion in Quebec is true to life. This is a place where small cities/towns have many churches, most of which are empty. Those who attend mass are generally octogenarians or immigrants. Having younger quebecois in attendance is rare. (The Anglophones who attended mass were often asked to read, etc. because the priests were so happy to have young people in the church.) Swearing is also accurately portrayed. The worst swear words are related to the church: chalice, host, tabernacle. On the other hand, words like “fucked” were of the same intensity as maybe “ass”. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a 60 year old kind and proper grandmother tell how she’d hurt her arm by saying it was all “fucke” (accent key doesn’t work in this format). It was a bit of a shock at first.
And, in general, priests and Catholicism have been tarnished by the actions of a few and the willingness of the Church to cover up what ought to have been exposed to sunlight, excised and eliminated. I don’t believe that there will ever be such blind faith in the Church again.

I have to say I didn’t know that there actually was a Gilbertine Order, but I guess there was at one time. But when the order was in existence it wasn’t structured like this; for one it appears to be an order of women. The example of the cloistered nuns in your reply is not really applicable. I don’t know any order of men that has that degree of restriction. The Cistercians which are the most strict order I know of are at root Benedictine and follow a rule of hospitality. I guess I would respect this book more if the order depicted was based more in an actual example of an order of monks. I don’t think there was sufficient research done. What we have is an order than fits the needs of the story and reflects the attitude prevalant in the society toward the church. It disappointed me.

Jane – the Gilbertine order had both nuns and monks – not just nuns. I found the idea that the order died out at the time of the Dissolution laid the groundwork for Penny’s idea that an order had simply “gone to ground”, or hidden itself away in order to preserve it’s way of life. Add to that, the fact that new members must, by definition, be recruited, since it was a secret order, and it’s not such a wild leap to see the Abbot going to other monasteries to invite new members based on what they would bring to the self-sufficient order. I find the whole thing extremely plausible. I would, once again, cite the rule of “suspension of disbelief”. The author has a responsibility to write a plausible story, but I think the reader also has a responsibility to not look behind the curtain. Of course, this is a fictitious order. How could Louise write about a real secret order?

Jane,
Cloistered orders do still exist – and do not accept guests as those with which you may be familiar. The historic St. Gilbert DID accept monks (males) into the Gilbertines as well as religious nuns & religious lay women.

Just two different types of monasteries – kind of like hotel/motels that do or do not accept pets?! :~}

I’m glad to know someone else felt this way—it was a jolt to me that the narrator was commenting on this, not just Jean-Guy. I thought it might be the author’s feeling as well.

I reread this book listening to the Monks of the Abbey 0f Solesmes – a 1930 recording of Chants recorded a good many years before they became popular. The music was a ground that kept me rooted as this book circled and got deeper especially into the character of Jean Guy. I cannot imagine NOT reading these books in order, in fact the series is so well developed that it evolves as one long story with episodes. I introduced “Still Life” to my book club and the sole complaint was that many characters were not developed, and I said this is only the first chapter, keep reading and you will get to know them well. I enjoy the mysteries, but love the humanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TWO UNRELATED FACTOIDS & A FEW “AMENS” FOR THE CHOIR! :~D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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