The premise of the eighth Chief Inspector Gamache mystery sounds like ye olde Gothic novel boilerplate, so it’s a testament to Louise Penny’s subtlety as a writer that The Beautiful Mystery is so fresh and fully realized. In their latest case, Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his sidekick in the Surete du Quebec, venture into a world largely untouched by modernity but, regrettably, not untouched by sin … Penny’s setting is so haunting that she can perhaps be excused for going on a tad too long throughout the first third of this book in describing the atmosphere of the abbey … By its conclusion, The Beautiful Mystery transforms itself, unexpectedly, into an emotionally harrowing tale.
The Beautiful Mystery is tense in ways that Penny’s other novels are not. It’s a tightly woven web, and the story movement is subtle. Dialogue is critical. The reader gets the sense that he or she has all the same information that Gamache and Beauvoir have, that they are unravelling the mystery together. Because the setting is almost claustrophobic, there’s little room for dramatic physical action. Penny’s skills as a student of plot as well as psychology are beautifully on display … There are so many mysteries, so many secrets revealed in The Beautiful Mystery—all stunning and heartbreaking.
Traditional mystery fans can look forward to a captivating whodunit plot, a clever fair-play clue concealed in plain view, and the deft use of humor to lighten the story’s dark patches. On a deeper level, the crime provides a means for Penny’s unusually empathic, all-too-fallible lead to unearth truths about human passions and weaknesses while avoiding simple answers.