63 pages 2 hours read

Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Beautiful Mystery, published in 2012, is the eighth book in former Canadian journalist Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. The Gamache series is known for its recurring cast of characters, psychological depth, and long-term story arcs. Gamache is a longtime member of Québec’s provincial police force, most often known by its French name, the Sûreté du Québec. Gamache’s struggles with police corruption form the main plot of several books, including A Fatal Grace and The Cruelest Month, which shape the action of The Beautiful Mystery and are finally resolved in the next installment, How the Light Gets In.

Penny’s work on the Gamache series has won her intentional recognition and several awards. These include several Agatha Awards—named for Dame Agatha Christie—for achievements in the mystery genre. Penny’s most recent Agatha was awarded for 2020’s Gamache novel, All the Devils Are Here.

Content warnings for this text include moderately graphic memories of violence and past and present depictions of opioid addiction, as well as brief mentions of pedophilia and sexual assault.

Plot Summary

Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s second in command, is enjoying a new phase of personal contentment as he has fallen in love with Annie Gamache, his boss’s daughter, and is sober after struggling with a painkiller addiction. Beauvoir is anxious that his boss approve of the new relationship, which he and Annie are still concealing. Their domestic bliss is interrupted when Beauvoir and Gamache are summoned to a remote monastery where there has been a murder.

The fictional monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (which translates as “Saint Gilbert Among the Wolves”) has recently become internationally famous. The monastery is devoted to Gregorian chant, a notable exception to the order’s vow of regular silence. The monks released a CD of their chants which went viral. Gamache is captivated by the music, but the more practical and skeptical Beauvoir is uninterested in the music and contemptuous of organized religion. Both Gamache and Beauvoir are still dealing with their injuries from the case depicted in Bury Your Dead.

The murdered monk was the abbey’s prior and its choirmaster—he was instrumental to the release of the CD that has made the monks internationally known. Gamache is struck by the monastery’s newest arrival, Frère Luc. After meeting the distraught abbot, the prior’s close friend, Gamache suspects that the monk who discovered the body is concealing much of what he knows.

As the abbot instructs the monks to cooperate with the investigation, Gamache notes fault lines in the abbey. The viral recording and its consequences became a source of tension. The prior became the de facto leader of those who wanted to make another CD and dispense with the vow of silence, while the abbot’s supporters were concerned about too much secular influence on the community and their music. Beauvoir is uncomfortable with religion, as are most Québécois of his generation. Gamache, too, struggles to make sense of the foreign environment.

Gamache’s superior and longtime rival, Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur, arrives. Francoeur resents Gamache’s steadfast opposition to corruption and his willingness to denounce it publicly. Francoeur also senses that Gamache is particularly vulnerable in the aftermath of the shooting that nearly killed him and Beauvoir. He works to divide the long-term investigative team, implying that Gamache has lost interest in finding the person who leaked the video of the shooting. The video is a major trigger for Beauvoir’s addiction, and Francoeur hopes to force a relapse by offering the younger man opioids. Beauvoir relapses.

The murdered prior died clutching a musical composition. It is not a conventional Gregorian chant, and may even have been considered sacrilegious since it included instruments. The new recording had particular salience to the few monks who know the monastery remains literally in danger of collapsing from lack of funds. Gamache conclusively breaks the case with the help of Frère Sebastien, a member of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, a new arrival from Rome. His office is in charge of doctrine and heresy. Sebastien pretends to be investigating the murder but soon admits he has been searching for the Gilbertines because the monastery’s book of chants is a priceless artifact. It contains the origin of Gregorian chant, called the “beautiful mystery.”

Beauvoir overdoses, and Gamache finally sees Francoeur’s plot. Before departing so that Beauvoir can get help, Gamache convinces Frère Sebastien to sing the unconventional composition, and Frère Luc cracks under the pressure and confesses. He was enlisted to write words for the composition but was so upset by the sacrilege and the prior’s threat to remove him from the choir that he killed him. Francoeur and Gamache face off once more, the former trying to persuade Beauvoir that Gamache doesn’t care about him and that he does not need to go to rehab. Beauvoir believes Francoeur. Gamache watches him go, consoled by the abbot, knowing that his struggle against corruption must continue.

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