World Crime Atlas: Canada

The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny

Plot: A brutal death throws the door of a monastery, hidden deep in a forested wilderness, open to the world. Who among the two dozen monks has become an angel of death?

Where: Quebec.

The Detectives: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec – “a substantial man, though not heavy;” assisted by Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir.

Sense of Place: Almost all of the story is set within the walls of the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (St Gilbert Among the Wolves), a place “as far from civilisation as (the monks) could get.”

Our first glimpse inside the monastery is of a corridor filled with rainbows and prisms of light, “the colour of joy.”

But we soon discover that there is something very wrong at its heart: “A place of distortion and even deprivation. Of great silence and greater darkness,” where “the natural world was locked out.”

The dual nature of the monastery is captured in a later passage: “Was this place . . .a golden moment? Between two worlds. . . Between the mortal world, and Heaven. Or Hell. There was here.”

The book steadily builds an impression of seclusion and privacy. This is a place, and a way of life, enfolded in “cloaks of silence and piety and routine.” The monks exist in an “interior world of subtle glances and vague alliances. Of notes and veiled expressions.”

It is also about the places we go to when we get lost in listening to music. The beautiful mystery of the title refers to the ancient chants performed by monks in the early days of the Catholic church; chants later forgotten, but which lie at the heart of the story.

Worth reading? Definitely yes. This is the eighth novel in a series about Chief Inspector Gamache, and I would be very happy to go back and read the entire series from the beginning.

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World.

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