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Malady in a Monastery: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (AUDIO)

Cover image of The Beautiful Mystery audio editionSet in a monastery deep in a forest in northernmost Quebec in mid-September when the leaves are already turning, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (narrated by the talented Ralph Cosham) is a great audiobook to listen to as nights are getting longer and winter looms. In this eighth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, there’s no visit to the village of Three Pines, where readers of the first seven novels may have imagined spending quiet nights in the local B&B (quiet, except for when there has been a murder in or around the village), but meeting the fictional monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups and catching up with the continuing story of the fallout for the chief inspector and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, from traumatic events of the previous year (see Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light) more than made up for not hearing about my favorite Three Pines characters – Clara, Peter, Gabri, Olivier, Myrna, and Ruth.

“Some malady is coming upon us. / We wait. We wait.” These lines from T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral keeps entering the mind of Armand Gamache, the usually mild-mannered head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, during the time he spends at the remote St. Gilbertine monastery. No outsiders have ever before been allowed entrance; in fact, no outsiders – including the Pope – had known the monastery even existed until a few years ago. Chief Inspector Gamache appreciates the beauty of poetry and of the Gregorian chant that the monks have suddenly become famous for, but he’s no pushover when it comes to investigating murder. In this case, that murderer is clearly one of the twenty-three cloistered monks remaining in the building with the thick stone walls, behind the door that is always kept locked, but that isn’t the most dangerous thing lying in wait for Armand Gamache and his more philistine, but beloved, friend and lieutenant Jean Guy.

Listen to an excerpt from The Beautiful Mystery as narrated by Ralph Cosham here. If you like audiobooks at all, I guarantee you’ll like the audio editions of Louise Penny’s books, but you should start with Still Life, the first one. (Still Life is also a good one to read in the fall, if I remember correctly.) The only quibbles I had with The Beautiful Mystery narration is the way the author distinctly pronounced the “o” in the word “Catholic” (“Cath-oh-lic”) which sounded odd to me, and that he forgot to use the French pronunciation of the name “David.” Otherwise, the audiobook narration was as heavenly and mesmerizing as the Gregorian chant that was sung to near perfection by the monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups.

The Beautiful Mystery (Unabridged)
Penny, Louise
Macmillan Audio
August 28, 2012
13.5 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Beautiful Mystery on CD from Macmillan Audio through Audiobook Jukebox.

Other opinions of The Beautiful Mystery audiobook (all raves):
Bookin’ with “Bingo”
Thoughts in Progress

You may also be interested in my review of The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, here.


Out of Amnesia: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

In Garment of Shadows, the intrepid Mary Russell is back on serious territory after her unusual (and undesired) foray into the pop culture of the time (1924) with Fflytte Films (detailed in her last book of “memoirs”, Pirate King). This story is twelfth in the series of suspense novels by Laurie R. King (starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) about an unusual partnership between the retired famous detective Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, a young woman with a classical education from Oxford; well-versed in Judaism and other theologies; sharp-witted; an excellent shot (when she has her glasses on); and very skilled at wielding the sharp knife she keeps hidden in her boot (only when cornered or attacked.)

Garment of Shadows opens with Mary Russell concussed and amnesiac, trying to figure out who she is, where she is, and how she got there. Her life up until that point is a near-blank. Out of a haze of shadowy thoughts and with the help of muscle memory, she escapes this latest dangerous situation, and the latest adventure of this most unusual married couple (separated from each other at the moment) begins. This time, they are in the divided country of Morocco, where the borders of French and Spanish protectorates are being threatened by local tribal factions and where, it appears, civil war is imminent.

The Mary Russell series falls into the genre of historical mystery and suspense, but the author’s writing style gives them a contemporary feel. Russell is a thoroughly modern woman who drives, speaks her mind, and records such thoughts in her memoir as “It was damnably irritating” and “Oh, that was just great.” Neither the 25-year-old Russell nor the 70-something Holmes expect proper behavior from the other – allowing both partners to indulge in eccentricity, frequent disguises, dangerous exploits, and the exercise of their keen, complementary intelligence. Russell and Holmes do show a traditionally gentlemanly reluctance to kill in cold blood, and display good English sportsmanship when playing The Game (i.e. espionage) by only using deadly force when absolutely necessary to save another’s life.

Each of the books in the series can stand alone, but they really are best read in order, to appreciate the organic growth of the relationship of the main characters from mentor and pupil to equal partners in detection and espionage in the service of queen and country. You can read a substantial PDF excerpt from the beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, when Mary Russell is only fifteen, from the author’s Web site.

Read my review of Pirate King here.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Garment of Shadows from Random House through NetGalley.

Garment of Shadows
King, Laurie R.
Random House, Sept. 4, 2012
288 pp.


Waiting on Wednesday — The Drop

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Drop (Hachette Audio Edition)

Michael Connelly

Publication Date: November 28

The Drop is the seventeenth book by Michael Connelly featuring L.A.P.D. Detective Harry Bosch, long-time loner turned accidental family man. The Harry Bosch novels fall into the “rogue detective” category of crime fiction; Harry Bosch is a loose cannon in the eyes of supervisors and administrators, willing to break rules and/or heads as necessary to solve a murder case. The first several audiobook versions were narrated to perfection by Dick Hill. The switch to Len Cariou was a little disturbing at first (Who the heck is this? This isn’t Harry Bosch!) but I adjusted. (Really. I did.) Len Cariou is Harry Bosch now. (They’d just better not change narrators again. Ever.)
I’m not much of a crime fiction reader in general, but I’m eagerly awaiting the new Harry Bosch novel.

Shoot to Thrill by P.J. Tracy


If you haven’t met the Monkeewrench crew, you might want to start with the book that introduces them: Monkeewrench. If you have met them, you’re probably waiting for me to return my copy of Shoot to Thrill, the fifth book in the suspense series, to the library.
Monkeewrench is a group of computer hacker geniuses — some of them quirky to the point of pathology — who help the Minneapolis Police Department detectives bring down murderers. The Monkeewrench books by P.J. Tracy — a pen name for the mother-daughter team, Patricia and Traci Lambrecht — have action-packed plots, serial killers, and rapid-fire dialogue. If you’re in the mood for a thriller, try this series.
Here’s the order to read them in, although the Publishers Weekly review says you can jump in on the fifth one without any problem:
Monkeewrench (check OCLN for availability)
Live Bait  (check OCLN for availability)
Dead Run  (check OCLN for availability)
Snow Blind  (check OCLN for availability)
Shoot to Thrill  (check OCLN for availability)
By the way, whenever I want to look up the order of a series, I use the wonderful What’s Next™: Books in Series database maintained by the Kent District Library in Kent County, Michigan.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Scandinavian authors are still in vogue with U.S. crime fiction readers, especially Stieg Larsson, whose bestselling first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is also a movie, newly released in the U.S., garnering good reviews everywhere. Translated from the Swedish, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is as dark and grim about society’s failures as fellow Swedish author Henning Mankell’s, but are long, sprawling novels, unlike Mankell’s sparer stories about police detective Kurt Wallander.
The title character, Lisbeth Salander, a pierced, tattooed, world-class computer hacker, trusts no one — for good reasons, which are hinted at in this book, but explained more fully in the second, The Girl Who Played with Fire.
Intrigued by her prickly persona and talent for finding out secrets, Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, hires her to help him solve an old, unsolved disappearance that he has been drawn into researching. Digging into this prominent family’s past becomes dangerous for them both.
Scenes of sadism, rape, torture, abuse, and revenge make parts of this novel painful to read, but, like many others, I was hooked by the deeply troubled character of the motorcyle-riding, kick-boxing 24-year-old, Lisbeth Salander, scrawny as a fourteen-year-old but tough as nails.  She was an at-risk youth who grew up trying to protect herself from male predators in one form or another. Most learn quickly not to mess with Lisbeth Salander.
Check the availability of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire from home through our Old Colony Library Network catalog.
The third book of the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, won’t be released in the U.S. until May 25. Sadly, Stieg Larsson died in 2004 at the age of 50, before the books were published in Sweden.

Nine Dragons and the State of Crime Fiction

I’m on the library “holds” list for Nine Dragons, Michael Connelly’s latest book in the Harry Bosch series, but in the meantime — if I don’t run out and buy it over Thanksgiving weekend — I might check out one of the many other crime fiction authors recommended in The State of the Crime Novel, a recommendation-filled interview by author Jason Pinter with various book reviewers on, yes, The Huffington Post‘s Books blog.
Here’s how Oline Cogdill, mystery reviewer for The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and Publishers Weekly responded when asked: Who are three veteran crime writers you feel are still at the top of their game? Who are three writers flying under the radar you feel deserve to break out?:

Oline Cogdill: Michael Connelly is perhaps our most consistent living mystery author and his novels are about moments in our time, how the changing LA copes in the 21st century. Laura Lippman continues to amaze me with how she can so precisely tap into the issues of women. Laurie King’s Mary Russell novels would have been the kind I would have loved to have as a young teenager. I think they will be timeless. Val McDermid continues to be one of my favorites and I am looking forward to Dennis Lehane’s next novel, especially with the buzz I’ve been hearing. I also always look forward to novels by Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin and S.J. Rozan, Charles Todd. For breakouts: Michael Koryta is an amazing writer and so young. We’ll be hearing a lot more from him. I feel the same way about John Hart, that he will be a novelist with a long career. Linwood Barclay has been around for a while but his family thrillers put him in league with Harlan Coben and may finally put him over the top with American audiences. Some upcoming novelists I think you’ll be hearing about are Bryan Gruley (Starvation Lake), Attica Locke (Black Water Rising) and Paul Doiron (The Poacher’s Son comes out in April) These are major talents. I loved Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen and I want to see what he does next.

Thanks to Becky, a library book blogger at RA for All, for pointing this interview out. Subscribe to her blog for great reading advice.

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