Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8
Kindle Edition, 373 pages
Published: August 28, 2012 by Minotaur Books (1st published January 1, 2012)
Literary Awards: Anthony Award for Best Novel (2013), Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012), Audie Award Nominee
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, are the first outsiders admitted to the secluded monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, ensconced in the Québec wilderness. Although they live by a vow of silence, the two dozen monks have built their lives around sacred music, singing ancient, beautiful Gregorian chants. Their music connects them to God, brings them profound peace, and has brought them worldly fame.
However everything in the seemingly peaceful community is not what it appears, and the choir director has been murdered. One of his fellow monks struck him down.
This mystery takes place in a monastery and — due to Penny’s characteristic artful eye for detail and compassionate, psychologically complex exploration of people in small communities — it is a fascinating visit. She did a beautiful job of recreating the unique atmosphere of the monastery and portraying daily life there.
Another layer of this novel continues the ongoing story of intradepartmental corruption and tragedy that began when the Arnot case was introduced at the beginning of this series. Internecine tensions heighten dramatically, putting Armand and Jean-Guy in jeopardy. More than ever, Jean-Guy has so much to lose; he is newly recovering from drug addiction and has recently begun a relationship with a woman he loves deeply. A third party is driving a wedge between him and his boss and mentor, Armand, who loves him like a son. It is heart-wrenching to see this person’s calculated efforts to manipulate a vulnerable young man.
I am impressed with Penny’s portrayal of Jean-Guy’s addiction and post-traumatic stress, stemming from an incident in an old factory, especially how it reflects the way addiction and depression skew ones perception of oneself and others. A loving message suddenly seems tinged with ridicule, and an act of concern appears to be a personal attack. This novel also explores new territory as it brings Armand Gamache closer to his own dark side.
As always, Penny’s ability to recreate a fascinating place and community, the psychological richness of her writing, and her catholic interest in and knowledge of myriad topics, including art, music, and history, is a winning combination. From the beginning, reading this series has been pure pleasure, and it keeps becoming richer and more absorbing.