I received an Advanced Read Copy (ARC) of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
The Beautiful Mystery is a beautiful read. I could use the word beautiful over and over again to describe the book and still not feel I was expressing myself adequately. I could pull out a thesaurus and find every alternative word for beautiful, and it still wouldn't be enough.
Although I've never read any of the other books in the series, I connected immediately with the characters, then lost myself in the Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups monastery, its monks and its plainchant. I rarely read a book that resonates for me as this one did, and I get a little thrill when I do.
This is so much more than a murder mystery. The mystery is almost nothing more than a vehicle to explore the abbey, the underlying currents of the men who live in it, and of the Sûreté officers who come to investigate the murder. I became almost magically transported, as if I was sitting in the Blessed Chapel and listening to the voices of the monks chanting their song that is the voice of God. It's not a page-turner in the traditional sense. The entire story takes place in and around the remote monastery, so it's not a mile-a-minute pace, there are no car chases, beautiful/dangerous women and mysterious men. It's a page turner in the sense that it's told so well, and the characters and story are compelling.
Who killed the prior, Frère Mathieu? As I got to know the monks of the abbey, I almost didn't want to know. The personalities are wonderfully developed, fleshed out for the reader as the investigation progresses. Their contained, cloistered life is, for them, complete and fulfilling – until they record their Gregorian chants and send the recording out into the world to raise money so they can fix up the abbey. It seems such a small thing, a simple thing. But even small, simple things have unintended consequences, and in the end the consequence was murder.
The abbey itself takes on a personality. I want to go there and see the dancing prisms of light, explore the ancient walls, see it all and hear it all for myself. I want to know if there is a building in existence that actually inspired the description of the abbey – and then I want to go there.
I found the parallels in the story to be absolutely captivating. There is Frère Mathieu and his ambition, his desire to take an unintended consequence and exploit it, changing forever the character of the Gilbertine life and the lives of the monks. He does not hesitate to use those around him, to manipulate those he sees as weakest, to achieve his ambition. He is even willing to turn friends into enemies, destroying a long friendship with the abbot in the process. Then there is the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, Silvain Françoeur, who almost literally drops into the abbey. He also has ambitions, and he is not only willing to use and destroy others – he seems to relish doing so. His role as a villain is subtle, but so strong that I found myself hoping Gamache would go ahead and kill him. And in this, one of the themes of the book is further developed: can someone do the wrong thing for the right reason? Can murder be justified if it removes an evil or disruptive force? In the end, the law makes no distinction, but you might find yourself wishing it would (and that Gamache would throttle the life out of Françoeur).
Finally, I loved the story of the two wolves of Gilbert. You will need to read to the end to find their significance, but I promise it will be worth the read.
I cried at the end. I cried for the monk who is finally exposed as a murderer. I cried even harder at his confession. I cried for Beauvois and Gamache. I was sad for Gamache, sad for the abbott, and sad that I was done reading this beautiful book.
Now for the price. OK, it's pricey by my standards but I hope I've raved sufficiently that if I was a potential reader, and I read this review, I'd feel it was worth the price. This book will stay on my shelf and anyone who visits will either have to finish it before they leave, or get their own copy.