I read my first Louise Penny novel – the first one she wrote (Still Life) – thanks to an old college friend of mine. She is a big fan so she sent me a book. I did enjoy it, so when I saw this audio book in the library, I grabbed it up.
Stats: Published in 2012, print is 400 pages, audio is 11 discs (it didn’t give me the number of hours), narrator is Ralph Cosham
No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”
But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.
What I liked: I love the setting and the idea of the setting, though a bit unrealistic perhaps, it can be overlooked for the sake of the story mostly. Gamache is a wonderful character, as is his side-kick, Jean-Guy. But the real stellar character in this story is the nasty, nasty head of the Surete du Quebec, Francoeur – though it’s really never clear why he’s there because the man doesn’t seem to know how to do anything but lie. This fact might be revealed in the next book, because things were left unresolved related to appearance. I thought Mr. Cosham did a fine job with the narration and the accents. Very enjoyable to listen to. I also love that the monks make chocolate covered blueberries!
What I didn’t like: Since I’ve only read one of Penny’s novels, I don’t know her writing style real well and I think this book is her 13th, but in this novel Penny repeated the story facts a bit too much for my liking. I get that the story was set in a place where time slowed and small things meant more than in the “normal” world – part of the appeal of where this story takes place. But I didn’t need to hear the same facts perhaps said by different people at different times. It slowed an already naturally slow story down too much. And to have the mystery resolved in part because the “inquisition” in the form of a Dominican Monk just happens to find the abby at this very time (even though the reason he has found it is because of a recording that seems to have been out a little while – time enough to hop on a plane). Again, for the sake of the story line, it can be overlooked, but it just seems a bit contrived.
Rating: 4/5 (despite the flaws)