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198 of 215 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"The Beautiful Mystery" by Louise Penny is Penny's first book I've read, but it surely won't be the last. It is one of the best written, almost lyrical stories I've read in a long time. Yes, "The Beautiful Mystery" is part of a series of seven previous books starring Armand Gamache, but the book is an excellent novel that transcends its "police procedural" designation and becomes simply a beautifully written novel.

Set in Montreal, Surete Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is sent, along with his aide, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, to a monastery hidden away in the hills and forests well outside the city. A monk has been found murdered in the garden and the head of the monastery - Dom Philippe - has reluctantly sent for the Surete to investigate the murder. But this is no ordinary monastery; the 24 monks living within have taken vows of silence and express their religion through their beautiful Gregorian chants. They had recorded their chants on a CD from which they hoped to earn a modest amount of money to fix up their dilapidated building. The order - the Gilbertines - was actually a renegade religious order who had fled England for Canada 400 years before. (The reader can learn an awful lot of history by reading this book.) But the CD of chants had struck a chord outside the monastery walls and had become a world-wide best-seller. Suddenly a previously obscure bunch of monks were famous for their singing and money, a by-product of their success, had become an issue in the congregation. There was division as the leaders couldn't decide whether or not to seize their success and record another CD of beautiful, spectral music.

But if the Gilbertine monks were caught up in power struggles, so were the members of the Surete sent to work the case. Louise Penny updates the feuds and battles within the upper ranks of the police organisation she had previously written about in her series. For someone like me, who hadn't read the previous novels, Penny was able to strike the right note of filling in the back story without boring those who already knew what had come before.

Penny's novel becomes almost like the beautiful and heavenly Gregorian chants as she combines different plot points and characters to tell a nuanced story that rivals the chants in their intricacy. There's not a false move in her writing and the novel is compelling reading. As I wrote at the beginning, this is my first Louise Penny novel, but it sure won't be my last!
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139 of 153 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Although I am a huge Louise Penny fan and have eagerly awaited each new arrival, I must confess I was a bit disappointed with this one. I found the ending melodramatic and Beauvoir's actions near the end simply unbelievable. I wish she would bring the factory raid chapter to a close and let these characters get on with their lives.
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91 of 99 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 11, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
or maybe not. I have read a few Louise Penny books previously, and while I thought them pleasant and well-written, I didn't LOVE them. I loved this one. Everything about it, from the well-written and compelling mystery to the daily life of a Gilbertine monk. I loved the way the monks were portrayed, as being men of God, but human nonetheless. I loved the dilemma of the monks--to continue to serve God in their quiet, humble way, or to go forward into society with their chanting, to raise the money to fix the monastery. I loved the subtlety of their communications, and the subtle and nuanced writing. There is a lot of conflict here--quiet conflict, but the whole book is one conflict after another. The monks vs. modern life, vows of silence vs. commercial chanting, Gamache vs. Francoeur, Gamache vs. Beauvoir, the abbott vs. the prior--on and on. It made for entertaining reading, but above all, I loved the atmosphere, the isolation of the monks, the peacefullness, the solitude and how that was horribly interrupted by so base and human a thing as murder. I thought it was brilliant.
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116 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book was an enormous disappointment to me. I have been a fan of Louise Penny and her Armand Gamache since Still Life. Yes, it is true that it would be difficult to have yet another murder in Three Pines (too murderous for such a small place), but this setting was simply too claustrophobic. Just Armand and Jean-Guy locked into this desolate monastery. Also it is past time to finish with Francoeur. Ms Penny has made us care about her characters and now seems on the verge of destroying both Armand and Jean-Guy. It is time to restore both Jean-Guy and the Surete to full health. Truly, if this isn't done in the next book, I am afraid it will be my last Louise Penny book. I really hope that readers do not start with this book, they might miss the wonderful experience of the books that came before.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've loved Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache books, but this one -- yet another variant on the classic closed room or closed site story -- seems to be stretching Gamache's history with internal Surete politics and a traumatic raid out too far. It also reads as if someone told her it would punch things up to use more sentence fragments, which I just found irritating. I like her creation of a lost religious order, the references to Gregorian chant, amd the strong visual sense of the locked monastery. I will of course continue to read the Gamache books as soon as they come out (Kindle book preorders are the ultimate instant gratification!) but I hope the next one puts some old history to bed and ditches the pseudo-journalistic style. Clearly there will be more of these, because the last chapter seems constructed to pack in as many cliff hangers as possible, short of an actual cliff.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
As a raving fan of Louise Penny and her Gamache novels, I pre-ordered on my Kindle and counted the days 'til delivery.

As a lover of medieval music and particularly Gregorian Chant, I was enamoured with the skillful and clever way she wove the music into her story and even into her actual prose. Really well done. Overall, I enjoyed the read and the story as well.

The frustrating part is that there really are two mysteries (at least) at play in this book--one of which is again left dangling. There is the fascinating mystery of the prior's murder and the many layers of relationship and intrigue within the dynamics of the monastery. Thankfully that one is resolved! On the other hand, there is the ongoing mystery of the factory raid--who leaked the video of the raid, and how its lingering effects shall finally be resolved in the lives of characters whom we love--that is not only left unresolved, but to my way of thinking, uncharacterisically (for Penny) muddled in a clumsy and ham-fisted way.

Perhaps it's the result of my own love for the music, but at times I found myself transported into the situations at the monastery through Penny's prose and her story of the chant's effect in the lives of the characters. When she dealt with the factory raid and the various streams and dynamics related to that story line, I found the writing almost cartoonish. Certainly clumsy and 2 dimensional.

Although I have loved all her novels, this is the first review that I've written. On reflection, I suppose that she had set such a high bar in previous stories, I expected the same high level to be achieved with this novel. In part she does achieve it. "The Beautiful Mystery" story of the prior's murder at the monastery is delivered skillfully. I found the storyline of the conflict between Gamache and Francouer involving internal Surete politics and the factory raid and its aftermath (esp. the effect on Beauvoir) to be lacking.

But all in all, it's still an entertaining read!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Although I am a fan of Penny's previous books, this book was a huge disappointment. I didn't mind that it wasn't set in Three Pines, actually, I was looking forward to the change. However, the plot in this book and the narratives about the music seemed to drone on and on. By the time I reached the end of the book, I didn't really care who the perpetrator of the murder was. Spoiler alert from here forward. Of further significance was the unseemly drama in the subplot regarding the conflict between Gamache and his chief and then Jean Guy and Gamache. Also I found Jean Guy's addiction to pain killers unrealistic in that that one minute he's a functioning police detective, although under the influence of pills, and the next, he's in withdrawal, out of his mind and pulling a gun on his chief and friend. Jean Guy's diminishing loyalty to Gamache did not ring true. I had pre-ordered this book, and I'm sorry to say I will not buy the next book until I've thoroughly read the reviews of the readers.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 13, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
After having read and reread and enjoyed seven of Penny's Armand Gamache novels, I don't like labeling number eight a dud, but I can't help myself.

I am obviously in the minority among the reviewers in being disappointed with "The Beautiful Mystery." It starts out well, with a seemingly senseless murder in a closed society of monks whose distinction is the way in which they sing Gregorian chants. Penny describes the chants and their effects well but, for me, she dwells on them and repeats so much that after a while I found myself muttering, "Get on with it. Get on with it." She finally does, but in the end the mystery is solved by a trick rather than cerebration.

Others have pointed out flagrant errors in the writing about chants and life in a monastery, and I agree with the comments on her developing habit of journalistic one or two word sentences and paragraphs. We're adults; we can read real sentences.

The novel falls apart in earnest with the arrival of Sylvain Francoeur, Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, who wants to destroy Gamache. I can't help wondering why, in successive books, Penny is putting increasing stress on something unrelated to the murders Gamache is working to solve. It's time to either end the struggle within the Sûreté, put it on a far back burner and ignore it, or abandon mysteries and write only about the struggle (which I, for one, don't care about).

If she wants to bring Jean-Guy Beauvoir back into his former relationship with Gamache, Penny has a real challenge to do it credibly because the rift here is so drastic. Or perhaps she wants to get rid of Beauvoir and promote Agent Lacoste to be Gamache's second in command. The way for that is clear now, but let's make the internal workings of the Sûreté strictly peripheral to the Gamache novels. If it continues to take so prominent a role in Penny's books, I will no longer be among her readers. The next novel will tell.
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I have read all of Penny's Gamache series in order and have been hawking the arrival date of this latest one. I purchased it the first day the kindle version was available and read it straight through! I now know way more than I ever wanted to about Gregorian chants and still don't know the identity of who leaked the factory video. Therefore, that event will, no doubt, loom again. As always, I found Gamache captivating as a character, but Beauvoir seemed one-dimentional this time out. Even the relationship with Annie and him was uninspiring. And the ending...I actually couldn't believe it was over when it was over. I don't need cozy endings with all wrapped up in bows, but the ending was very unsatisfying. I can't imagine how these characters will interact in the next installment; or maybe we've seen the end of Beauvoir. Too bad Penny became enthralled with the music and lost sight of her characters.
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117 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I have read all of Louise Penny's books and eagerly awaited the release of "The Beautiful Mystery." It combines the writing of a favorite author with a subject of deep fascination to me: monasticism. I was let down on both these levels.

If I were going to write a book that delved deeply into, say, airline operations, I would spend a great amount of time beforehand talking to pilots, agents, flight attendants, anybody that was an insider to my subject. There is too much that isn't apparent, too much technical data and special language that needs to be learned. I don't see where Ms. Penny did this work. TBM, for the most part, is her imagination of what life in a monastery must be like. I understand that they are often cloistered and not open to many women, but this has been worked around by others.

The whole atmosphere of this monastery rings untrue. Men don't join monasteries for "the chants," as she calls them, but for a deep religious motive. Believe or not, a postulant will not last long without this. Nobody joins such a rigorous life for the music. Certainly it is beautiful but no mystery: they've been doing it very well for hundreds of years and I don't recall where it has ever caught on in the popular market to the extent that big money is involved (the Singing Nun, notwithstanding.) Most monasteries barely get by with their commercial endeavors, including wine, whiskey, bread and music.

And no monk would ever eat all the blueberries he just picked without confessing this to his brothers the next day in General Chapter! Any new monk like Luc, already a priest or not, would be segregated into a sort of school setting in which he would study, for years, theology, the rules of his order and everything else a monk needs to know. He would never be isolated to gate duty and left on his own. Pride is discouraged in a monastic setting: you don't show off what you can do well, you try to learn that at which you often fail.

The book is full of errors any new monk would correct out of kindness. First, there is NO "vow of silence" in a monastery about which so much is written! Monks, like the Trappists with which I am most familiar, take five vows: poverty, chastity, obedience, stability and conversion of manners. Vows cannot be dismissed by an abbot. They are similar to the vow of marriage which includes, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Silence is a rule of the order, a simple discipline that has no morality attached to it. It is merely a way for the group to live more peacefully. This rule has much changed over the years to meet a monastery's needs.

Abbots don't go from monastery to monastery seeking out potential players; it isn't the NFL! The vow of stability I mentioned above discourages this: a monk is supposed to remain with his monastery for life. This vow is tempered with the vow of obedience so that sometimes a monk is sent, for example, to help open a new foundation. But no monk has ever switched religious orders because the music was better!

A monastery couldn't exist in secret, as this one seems to. They are under the care of the local bishop and Rome certainly knows where those folks are. A bishop is needed for ordination to the priesthood. How is the commercial aspect of a monastery carried out if nobody knows (including Rome!) that they are there? How do you make money on spoilable chocolate-covered blueberries in the heart of Quebec woods?

And a word about "monks." Monks are mostly cloistered and live in monasteries. The Dominican is NOT a monk but a friar, a mendicant. They have different lifestyles entirely. It was said of the Dominican that he was "a monk, not a priest," as if that were a status symbol. Priests are ordained monks and every monastery has a number of them. The prior, for example, would be a priest-monk.

The choir monks don't gather around the altar, they occupy choir stalls, long sideways pews with shelves to hold their psalters and other books. They are on either side of the main aisle and two groups of monks therefore face each other during mass and the chanting of the Divine Office. Mass isn't said normally at 11 o'clock for the simple reason that the monks fast until after mass. The main chapel is not called "The Blessed Chapel," but the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, as that is where the consecrated hosts dwell.

No cleric would ever interrupt a mass as the Dominican did, never mind the result. This scene, so important in the conclusion, is just preposterous. And no abbot would leave choir, in the middle of service, to answer the door, nor would the others follow him! There just seems to be no actual monastic experience anywhere and the story wouldn't have suffered if it had been more accurate. There are some very good stories within cloisters written by people who have taken the time to understand the setting.

Ms. Penny could also use some help with her Latin. She uses two of the most common phrases and gets them wrong. "Dies irae, dies illa" does NOT mean "day of wrath, day of mourning." This is a common English mistake. (Wikipedia this.) It really means, "Day of wrath, THAT day," of which the poem goes on to talk about. Any choir monk would know this.

Also "Ecce homo," doesn't mean "he is a man," it means "Behold the man!" Pilate's answer to the question at Jesus' trial. This isn't Cicero!

The book "mystery" isn't clear. How does the mark in the Book of Chants indicate "where to start"? Are monks born with perfect pitch? Another small question: do BlackBerry devices work without an Internet?

Enough nit picking about reality! I've tried to make the point that this monastery is unlike anything seen in Catholicism in the history of monasticism. I'm well aware of suspension of belief in a novel but go too far and you have science fiction.

What really disturbs me most is how little I was made to care for a single person in the story. Nobody is bigger than his petty self-interest. Beauvoir couldn't be much more dark and unlikeable, nor Gamache less a detective. The individual monks are one-dimensional and that dimension has nothing to do with being a good monk. In the end, I didn't care who did it; it could have been anybody with the inclusion of a simple explanation of "why him?" Everybody was set up to be the villain and we could just toss the dice. When you are convinced that a monastery is full of self-serving monks, at odds with their abbot and full of resentment up to the point of murder, you've really lost your target, I think. I was hoping to find a band of good people, like the villagers of Three Pines, where one of them went astray for reasons we might understand, and we would feel about as sorry for him as for the deceased. And please, enough of this police intrigue that has been going on way too long!

Ms. Penny should get back to things she knows about, or at least cares to learn a little of. Let's revisit her murderous little world of Three Pines, off a road the map forgot. I'll be waiting there next time.
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