A prior’s murder takes Quebec’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his sidekick, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, inside the walls of the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes.
The Gilbertine order, long extinct except for the two dozen brothers who live on an island apart from the rest of the world, enforces silence on its members. In the absence of speech, a raised eyebrow or averted gaze can speak intense hostility. Now someone has found a new way to communicate such hostility: by bashing Frère Mathieu, the monastery’s choirmaster and prior, over the head. Gamache and Beauvoir soon find that the order is devoted heart and soul to Gregorian chant; that its abbot, Dom Philippe, has recruited its members from among the ranks of other orders for their piety, their musical abilities and a necessary range of domestic and maintenance skills; and that an otherworldly recording the brothers had recently made of Gregorian chants has sharply polarized the community between the prior’s men, who want to exploit their unexpected success by making another recording and speaking more widely of their vocation, and the abbot’s men, who greet the prospect of a more open and worldly community with horror. Nor are conflicts limited to the holy suspects. Gamache, Beauvoir and Sûreté Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur, arriving unexpectedly and unwelcome, tangle over the proper way to conduct the investigation, the responsibility for the collateral damage in Gamache’s last case (A Trick of the Light, 2011, etc.), and Beauvoir’s loyalty to his two chiefs and himself in ways quite as violent as any their hosts can provide.
Elliptical and often oracular, but also remarkably penetrating and humane. The most illuminating analogies are not to other contemporary detective fiction but to The Name of the Rose and Murder in the Cathedral.