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The brilliant new novel in the New York Times bestselling series by Louise Penny, one of the most acclaimed crime writers of our time
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.
The Beautiful Mystery is the winner of the 2012 Agatha Award for best novel, the 2013 Anthony Award for best novel and the 2013 Macavity Award for best novel.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
As the last note of the chant escaped the Blessed Chapel a great silence fell, and with it came an even greater disquiet.
The silence stretched on. And on.
These were men used to silence, but this seemed extreme, even to them.
And still they stood in their long black robes and white tops, motionless.
These were men also used to waiting. But this too seemed extreme.
The less disciplined among them stole glances at the tall, slim, elderly man who had been the last to file in and would be the first to leave.
Dom Philippe kept his eyes closed. Where once this was a moment of profound peace, a private moment with his private God, when Vigils had ended and before he signaled for the Angelus, now it was simply escape.
He closed his eyes because he didn’t want to see.
Besides, he knew what was there. What was always there. What had been there for hundreds of years before he arrived and would, God willing, be there for centuries after he was buried in the cemetery. Two rows of men across from him, in black robes with white hoods, a simple rope tied at their waists.
And beside him to his right, two more rows of men.
They were facing each other across the stone floor of the chapel, like ancient battle lines.
No, he told his weary mind. No. I mustn’t think of this as a battle, or a war. Just opposing points of view. Expressed in a healthy community.
Then why was he so reluctant to open his eyes? To get the day going?
To signal the great bells that would ring the Angelus to the forests and birds and lakes and fish. And the monks. To the angels and all the saints. And God.
A throat cleared.
In the great silence it sounded like a bomb. And to the abbot’s ears it sounded like what it was.
With an effort he continued to keep his eyes closed. He remained still, and quiet. But there was no peace anymore. Now there was only turmoil, inside and out. He could feel it, vibrating from and between the two rows of waiting men.
He could feel it vibrating within him.
Dom Philippe counted to one hundred. Slowly. Then opening his blue eyes, he stared directly across the chapel, to the short, round man who stood with his eyes open, his hands folded on his stomach, a small smile on his endlessly patient face.
The abbot’s eyes narrowed slightly, in a glare, then he recovered and raising his slim right hand, he signaled. And the bells began.
The perfect, round, rich toll left the bell tower and took off into the early morning darkness. It skimmed over the clear lake, the forests, the rolling hills. To be heard by all sorts of creatures.
And twenty-four men, in a remote monastery in Québec.
A clarion call. Their day had begun.
* * *
“You’re not serious,” laughed Jean-Guy Beauvoir.
“I am,” nodded Annie. “I swear to God it’s the truth.”
“Are you telling me,” he picked up another piece of maple-cured bacon from the platter, “that your father gave your mother a bathmat as a gift when they first started dating?”
“No, no. That would be ridiculous.”
“Sure would,” he agreed and ate the bacon in two big bites. In the background an old Beau Dommage album was playing. “La complainte du phoque en Alaska.” About a lonely seal whose love had disappeared. Beauvoir hummed quietly to the familiar tune.
“He gave it to my grandmother the first time they met, as a hostess gift, thanking her for inviting him to dinner.”
Beauvoir laughed. “He never told me that,” he finally managed.
“Well, Dad doesn’t exactly mention it in polite conversation. Poor Mom. Felt she had to marry him. After all, who else would have him?”
Beauvoir laughed again. “So I guess the bar is set pretty low. I could hardly give you a worse gift.”
He reached down beside the table in the sunny kitchen. They’d made breakfast together that Saturday morning. A platter of bacon and scrambled eggs with melted Brie sat on the small pine table. He’d thrown on a sweater this early autumn day and gone around the corner from Annie’s apartment to the bakery on rue St-Denis for croissants and pain au chocolat. Then Jean-Guy had wandered in and out of the local shops, picking up a couple of cafés, the Montréal weekend papers, and something else.
“What’ve you got there?” Annie Gamache asked, leaning across the table. The cat leapt to the ground and found a spot on the floor where the sun hit.
“Nothing,” he grinned. “Just a little je ne sais quoi I saw, and thought of you.”
Beauvoir lifted it into plain sight.
“You asshole,” Annie said, and laughed. “It’s a toilet plunger.”
“With a bow on it,” said Beauvoir. “Just for you, ma chère. We’ve been together for three months. Happy anniversary.”
“Of course, the toilet plunger anniversary. And I got you nothing.”
“I forgive you,” he said.
Annie took the plunger. “I’ll think of you every time I use it. Though I think you’ll be the one using it most of the time. You are full of it, after all.”
“Too kind,” said Beauvoir, ducking his head in a small bow.
She thrust the plunger forward, gently prodding him with the red rubber suction cup as though it was a rapier and she the swordsman.
Beauvoir smiled and took a sip of his rich, aromatic café. So like Annie. Where other women might have pretended the ridiculous plunger was a wand, she pretended it was a sword.
Of course, Jean-Guy realized, he would never have given a toilet plunger to any other woman. Only Annie.
“You lied to me,” she said, sitting back down. “Dad obviously told you about the bathmat.”
“He did,” admitted Beauvoir. “We were in Gaspé, in a poacher’s cabin, searching for evidence when your father opened a closet and found not one but two brand-new bathmats, still in their wrapping.”
As he spoke he looked at Annie. Her eyes never left him, barely blinked. She took in every word, every gesture, every inflection. Enid, his ex-wife, had also listened. But there was always an edge of desperation about it, a demand. As though he owed her. As though she was dying and he was the medicine.
Enid left him drained, and yet still feeling inadequate.
But Annie was gentler. More generous.
Like her father, she listened carefully and quietly.
With Enid he never talked about his work, and she never asked. With Annie he told her everything.
Now, while putting strawberry confiture on the warm croissant, he told her about the poacher’s cabin, about the case, the savage murder of a family. He told her what they found, how they felt, and who they arrested.
“The bathmats turned out to be the key pieces of evidence,” said Beauvoir, lifting the croissant to his mouth. “Though it took us a long time to figure it out.”
“Is that when Dad told you about his own sad history with bathmats?”
Beauvoir nodded and chewed and saw the Chief Inspector in the dim cabin. Whispering the story. They weren’t sure when the poacher would return, and they didn’t want to be caught there. They had a search warrant, but they didn’t want him to know that. So as the two homicide investigators deftly searched, Chief Inspector Gamache had told Beauvoir about the bathmat. Of showing up for one of the most important meals of his life, desperate to impress the parents of the woman he’d fallen hopelessly in love with. And somehow deciding a bathmat was the perfect hostess gift.
“How could you have thought that, sir?” Beauvoir had whispered, glancing out the cracked and cobwebbed window, hoping not to see the shabby poacher returning with his kill.
“Well, now,” Gamache had paused, obviously trying to recall his own thinking. “Madame Gamache often asks the same question. Her mother never tired of asking either. Her father, on the other hand, decided I was an imbecile and never mentioned it again. That was worse. When they died we found the bathmat in their linen closet, still in its plastic wrapping, with the card attached.”
Beauvoir stopped talking and looked across at Annie. Her hair was still damp from the shower they’d shared. She smelled fresh and clean. Like a citron grove in the warm sunshine. No makeup. She wore warm slippers and loose, comfortable clothing. Annie was aware of fashion, and happy to be fashionable. But happier to be comfortable.
She was not slim. She was not a stunning beauty. Annie Gamache was none of the things he’d always found attractive in a woman. But Annie knew something most people never learn. She knew how great it was to be alive.
It had taken him almost forty years, but Jean-Guy Beauvoir finally understood it too. And knew now there was no greater beauty.
Annie was approaching thirty now. She’d been a gawky teenager when they’d first met. When the Chief Inspector had brought Beauvoir into his homicide division at the Sûreté du Québec. Of the hundreds of agents and inspectors under the Chief’s command, he’d chosen this young, brash agent no one else had wanted as his second in command.
Had made him part of the team, and eventually, over the years, part of the family.
Though even the Chief Inspector had no idea how much a part of the family Beauvoir had become.
“Well,” said Annie with a wry smile, “now we have our own bathroom story to baffle our children with. When we die they’ll find this, and wonder.”
She held up the plunger, with its cheery red bow.
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