What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?

Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mystery Monday: Gamache Sans Three Pines??

When the boatman who transports Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Quebec's Sûreté on the long journey through isolated bays in the Quebecois hinterland to the remote monastery of Saint-Gilbert-entre-les-Loups, he is convinced that within minutes he'll be ferrying them away once more. Outsiders are never admitted to this cloistered home of the Gilbertine monks, even though many now are trying to gain access to hear the community perform live the Gregorian chants they made famous through a recent recording. To the boat owner's surprise, the gate opens to Gamache and his assistant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Not because the monks are any more eager for visitors, but because one of their number, the prior and choir master,  has been found dead in the abbot's private garden -- violently murdered. What kind of cacophany exists beneath the pure harmony of the chants to which these monks devote their lives, and how could it be so discordant as to lead to murder?

Saint-Gilbert-entre-les-Loups is a unique place, caught between two worlds. "A netherworld. Between the vibrant life of Quebec. The bistros and brasseries, the festivals. The hardworking farmers and brilliant academics. Between the mortal world, and Heaven. Or Hell. There was here. Where quiet was king. And calm reigned. And the only sounds were the birds in the trees and plainchant. And where, a day ago, a man was killed." (And yes, Louise Penny's writing is that choppy and staccato. If you want to read this book, you'll need to adjust. And yes, it's one reason her novels likely will never get more than four stars from me. Because it feels like sitting in a car. Whose driver keeps nervously tapping on the brakes. When there is no reason to do so.)

Fans of Louise Penny's will rejoice to see Gamache's return in this latest novel; it will be interesting to see how many will embrace a book that isn't set in Three Pines and doesn't feature that fictional town's assortment of eccentric and lovable characters. Frankly, that made this latest mystery from Penny more appealing rather than less so. Let's face it, there are only so many complex murder cases that can plausibly be expected to occur in the same small community in the space of a year or two, and I think Penny has been pushing that limit for a few books now. Perhaps this heralds a parting of the ways, with Penny writing mysteries featuring Gamache and non-mysteries (or else much more cozy "light" mysteries) involving the residents of Three Pines? Regardless, I have become a little exasperated with the way that Three Pines characters have become almost caricatures (I know, sacrilege...) and even predictable. 

Not that Gamache himself can't become irritating. The man is almost saintly -- always having the best intentions; morality above reproach, unstained in an organization in which corruption apparently runs rampant. As Gamache and Beauvoir pursue their investigations, this becomes even more apparent, as Gamache's boss, Francoeur, shows up to throw spanners into the works and generally to disrupt Gamache; his hatred of the pure investigator transcending his interest in solving a high-profile crime, it seems. Gamache, by contrast, soars above such petty politicking in the same way that the monks' chants soar into the rafters of their church. 

Thank heavens for Jean-Guy Beauvoir. When the book opens, the troubled detective seems to have found himself an oasis of peace and love -- as the reader learns within only a few pages, he and Annie Gamache, the inspector's daughter, are now a couple, and it's True Love. His demons are put aside; Beauvoir is content at last, with only one hurdle remaining: the couple still must confess to Gamache pere and mere the truth of their current relationship. As Gamache must leave Reine-Marie to venture off into the wilds and behind the walls of an enclosed monastic order, so must Beauvoir leave Annie and he finds himself clinging to a string of love e-letters written and read on his Blackberry. Will that be enough of a lifeline for him to ward off an atmosphere in the abbey that he finds oppressive -- and resist the games that Francoeur wants to play at Gamache's expense? And what will become of  Gamache's attempt to save Beauvoir from himself?

The psychological tension between the three policemen grows to rival that among the various factions in the abbey itself, as Gamache moves closer to identifying the villain. I've rated this 4 stars, largely for the distinctive setting, the plot that revolves around the chants within the abbey and details of abbey life, and Penny's deep understanding of Quebec today as well as its history. I'm never going to become a Louise Penny fangirl, however -- but that's just fine, as I think she has thousands of them already! I obtained an advance copy of this mystery from the publisher at BookExpo in June; the publication date is August 28. (In other words, only three weeks to wait...)

Scheduled Publication: August 28, 2012

1 comment:

  1. I've just begun "Beautiful Mystery" and am so happy to be back in Gamache's company. I've even started a study of 'Gregorian Chants'--as always, when you're a reader, one thing leads to another!!!