Quebec’s Louise Penny is creating one of the best mystery series being published right now, and the eighth instalment in the Inspector Gamache series, The Beautiful Mystery, is available on August 28, 2012 – and will be on the in-store bestseller list for a limited time.
We’re happy to share this blog from the author, on her new book and her inspiration for writing it. A teaser from the novel’s opening, can be found here.
The Beautiful Mystery is a bit of a departure for me, and I suppose because of that, it’s also a bit of a risk. This is the eighth novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series and the first one completely away from the fictional village of Three Pines.
Instead, the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec and his second-in-command find themselves in a remote monastery, the home of two dozen Gilbertine monks, who created the abbey four centuries earlier in a desperate desire to get as far from civilization, and the Inquisition, as possible. They disappeared into the wilderness to lead lives of quiet contemplation. Their vows of silence were only broken to sing ancient Gregorian chants. The words of God, in the voice of God.
But that harmony is shattered when one of the monks is murdered. The massive gates are opened for Gamache and Beauvoir, the first men in centuries to enter who are not monks. The cloistered lives are revealed, in all their simplicity and beauty and glory. And all their pettiness, rivalries, jealousies.
It soon becomes clear to Chief Inspector Gamache that the peaceful monastery was a battleground. That warfare, silent and sinister, was being waged. Gamache realizes he’s dealing with men skilled at keeping their thoughts and emotions to themselves. But he also knows there are all sorts of ways to communicate that don’t involve speaking.
It becomes clear that at the core of these men’s lives, at the core of their faith, and the murder, are the glorious chants.
I chose this setting, and the background of the plain chant, because the power of music has long interested me. Not because I myself am a musician. Can’t play or sing a note. Not even ‘Happy Birthday”, as generations of family and friends will testify. You’d think even by mistake I’d hit the right note, but apparently not.
But music has always had a powerful effect on me, and on most people. In preparation for writing I read a book called This Is Your Brain on Music, in which music was likened to a powerful narcotic. Music opens centres of our brains that we couldn’t normally access. Creative, spiritual, sensory. Music can push me around that last lap, embolden me, or reduce me to tears. It can conjure people long dead, and dreams for the future. Before battle, before an Olympic event, before making love, we listen to music. We sing to our children, we sing at weddings, we sing at funerals. We sing to celebrate and we sing in mourning.
Music is a huge part of my creative process. Each of my novels has its own soundtrack – music I listened to while writing. I don’t listen when I’m actually at the laptop, writing. But before I start a book I find music can inspire me. And if I’m stuck in a manuscript I’ll go for a drive or a walk – and listen to music, and clear my mind. And the answer, often unexpected and better than I could ever have come up with on my own, appears.
The very first oral opiate was plain chant, later called Gregorian chants.
Their power is the beautiful mystery.
And we all know what men will do for power. To get it and to keep it.
This book has a murder, but at its heart it’s about beauty, and inspiration, about the crossroads of faith and duty. Of knowing when to kneel down, and when to stand up. When to speak, and when to remain silent.
I hope you get a chance to explore The Beautiful Mystery.
-Louise Penny, August, 2012
Thanks very much to Louise’s publishers for facilitating this blog, and special thanks to Louise herself for writing and sharing it.