Beauty Most Mysterious: Louis Penny and Alan Bradley

Penny, Louise. The Beautiful Mystery. New York: Minotaur-St. Martins, 2012.

DSCN1332 - Version 2Louise Penny was a writer new to me, so I was unfamiliar with Chief Inspector Gamache. In some ways, this lack of a previous history with the main character detracted somewhat from my pleasure in the book. I sensed there was a long-term story arc going on through the series, and I had come in right in medias res. And I was frustrated by the ending, not with the discovery of the murderer but with the fact that the issues in Gamache’s own life and Inspector Beauvoir’s problems appear not to be resolved. Of course, such an ending entices the reader to wait impatiently for the next book.

However, I did appreciate The Beautiful Mystery for several reasons. First, it is an interesting approach to what is basically a “locked room” mystery, and it fulfils one’s expectations of a whodunit—a murder that is solved satisfactorily. Its evocation of place, presentation of well-rounded characters, and evocation of mood all work quite well.  Penny writes in a sparse, lean style, most of the information shared with the reader being filtered through the perspective of either Gamache or Beauvoir. Such concentration builds a strong sympathy between her reader and her characters and allows the reader, at times, to have more information than either the Chief Inspector or his subordinate.

I might have liked even more music and more theology in the book. On one level, my favourite character was actually the Dominican Frère Sébastien. I like the double (actually way more than double) entendre of the title and some of the ironies in the plot. Am I one of those impatiently waiting for the next book? I’m not sure.

I do await the arrival of a new Flavia de Luce book and am at Chapter 6 of the latest, which I downloaded onto my ereader (so I apologise for less than detailed page references) the day before yesterday.

Bradley, Alan. Speaking from Among the Bones. Toronto: Doubleday

          Canada-Random House, 2013.

DSCN1332 - Version 2This series despite the blood and gore is light-hearted. I’m not sure I totally believe in Flavia, but she is nevertheless highly entertaining. The books are witty parodies, evoking the earlier world of Marjorie Allingham, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Michael Innes, and their ilk, and Bishop’s Lacey is one of those villages like St. Mary Mead where corpses appear like mushrooms. But in a way, Bradley’s work, in its exaggeration, reminds me as much of Stella Gibbons’ parody in Cold comfort Farm of the D. H. Lawrence type “earthy” novel of blood and soil as it does of the work of earlier writers in the detective genre.

Of course, I haven’t finished Speaking from Among the Bones yet, but I do have one picky caveat. I can suspend disbelief in a lot of things for the sake of the humour or the plot, but I have real difficulty in accepting that even though “the Vicar [of Saint Tancred’s, Bishop’s Lacey] was one of Father’s dearest friends” he actually baptised Flavia given that the de Luces “had been Catholics for so long that we sometimes referred to Saint Peter as “Uncle Pete’” (Chapter 4). Such ecumenicalism seems really anachronistic for the early fifties. I have similar reservations about Feely’s taking on the position as parish organist.  But perhaps such reservations and demands for verisimilitude  are inappropriate given the overall tone of the book. And I haven’t finished it yet. So far, the body has been found. Over the next few days no doubt I will discover who did the dastardly deed.

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