I hesitate to say much about what actually happens in the story, or to discuss its theme, events or characters, because I don't want to diminish the experience for the reader. It's not , but about discovering, gradually, the thematic complexities of the whole. I believe this latest effort by Penny is something of a masterpiece, not simply a masterpiece of the genre--we have lots of those (Sayers for example) but of literature--the believability and depth of characterization, the consistency and complexity of plot (a different type of complexity used by Sayers in her early books), the way the theme builds and develops, the subtle harmony of the play of points of view as the narrative moves in and out of characters heads. Louise Penny is not, of course, the first writer to realize the possibilities of this mystery genre, of layering into the pure entertainment something more substantial and nourishing. It's been done before, of course. Life itself is a type of murder mystery. But Penny manages a kind of lightness in her handling of the genre: the page turner that makes the reader stop and think, not about how to solve the puzzle before them, but also about the human condition itself--what matters after the murderer is caught. It's what I'd like to write, if only I could.
For those who have encountered Penny's books before, let me say that the characters--Gamache (Chief Investigator for homicide of the Quebec police) and his "side-kick" Jean Guy Beauvoir--continue to deepen, that is become more interesting, as the series progresses. About The Beautiful Mystery? Suffice it to say, it's set in a remote "lost" monastery in Eastern Quebec inhabited by twenty-four monks who live under vows of silence broken only by heart-wrenchingly beautiful Gregorian chants. Early one morning just after lauds a monk is found with his head bashed in. The abbot calls the police. Gamache and Beauvoir arrive by boat. It seems in part the ultimate locked-room mystery coupled with the country house cozy, a bit reminiscent of Christie's And Then There Were None. The murderer must be among these few. But who?? And why?? Indeed it was a beautiful mystery. Certainly it kept me awake and happy on the long flight from London back home to San Francisco. Highly emotional. Evocative. Just enough action and suspense. And some very effective cliff hangers. All without succumbing for a moment to the gratuitous violence of so many contemporary thrillers. Very satisfying. Now, back to Dorothy Sayers!