The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (2012)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #8

“Gregorian chants…were so old, more than a millennium, that they predated written music. The chants were simple, but there was power in that very simplicity. The 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 there were singing the word of God, in the calm, reassuring, hypnotic voice of God.” Prologue, The Beautiful Mystery

Armand Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, find themselves flying over the Quebec wilderness at the start of the series’ eighth book, The Beautiful Mystery. The two men have been asked to fly to a remote monastery — Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, Saint Gilbert Among the Wolves — to investigate the murder of one of the order’s twenty-four reclusive monks. Armand and Jean Guy will be among the first ever non-religious men to enter the church, which was built in secret nearly four-hundred years ago by a group of Catholic monks running from the Inquisition.

The order has always been made up of only twenty-four monks, men who have lived cloistered in the wilderness, under a vow of silence, never relying on the outside world. There only indulgence is their love of Gregorian chanting, which fills them all with religious ecstasy when they sing.  After nearly four-hundred years of solitude so extreme that even the Pope did not know they still existed, that peace has been shattered. One of their order has been murdered, and the killer must be among the other twenty-three monks living inside Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups.

Armand and Jean Guy are not what has shattered the monks world, not even the murder has caused devastation to the order; what has changed Saint-Gilbert is that the world found the monks and wanted to be let in…and the monks had begun to fight about whether or not to accept the world in. In fact, it was what they monks must valued — their chanting — that led people to their remote doorstep. To be more precise, a recording of their chanting had been publicized and enthralled people from around the world. A religious practice that the monks hold in the highest esteem has become the reason for murder.

The investigators find the men — silent, stoic, hard-working, devout — outwardly to be at peace with their simple life; kept company by their work running the monastery, their chanting, and God. Under the surface, however, Armand and Jean Guy find division, anger, and even hatred. It seems that after living “among the wolves” for so long, a wolf has finally gotten into their home and killed one of their flock.

The monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups are at turning point: should they lift their vows of silence and solitude and share their music with the world? Or should they fight to protect four-hundred years of tradition, even if it means battling with the outsiders who want so desperately to share in their love of the music of God?

The victim wanted to share their music with the world, and the killer had wanted to keep the doors firmly locked…and keep the music all to themselves. To force the killer into the light, Armand must first find the darkness lurking in each monk, searching for the one among them whose darkness has become something horrific.

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