The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #17
You're a coward.
2021 Minotaur Books
Finished on September 27, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
You're a coward.
Time and again, as the New Year approaches, that charge is leveled against Armand Gamache.
It starts innocently enough.
While the residents of the Québec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.
He's asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting professor of statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.
While he is perplexed as to why the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would be assigned this task, it sounds easy enough. That is, until Gamache starts looking into Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers an agenda so repulsive he begs the university to cancel the lecture.
They refuse, citing academic freedom, and accuse Gamache of censorship and intellectual cowardice. Before long, Professor Robinson's views start seeping into conversations. Spreading and infecting. So that truth and fact, reality and delusion, are so confused it's near impossible to tell them apart.
Discussions become debates, debates become arguments, which turn into fights. As sides are declared, a madness takes hold.
Abigail Robinson promises that if they follow her, ça va bien aller. All will be well. But not, Gamache and his team know, for everyone.
When a murder is committed, it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.
And the madness of crowds.
Another enjoyable mystery by Louise Penny, although I do have some issues with this latest installment in the Three Pines series. As I noted in my review of A Better Man, there are a few annoying details that are also mentioned more than once in this book. Do we really need to hear about random bits of food stuck in Clara's hair again? Or the repetitious asides about Ruth's duck Rosa or the odd ferret/rat creature that now resides with the Gamaches? (And yet, I don't mind reading about the bistro food, which is also a bit repetitious.) These are minor grievances, but they have become tiresome and I wish Penny's editor would urge her to find something fresh and new to say about her familiar cast of characters.
The Madness of Crowds is definitely a mystery and not a thriller, which is fine, but it lacks the tension and suspense that I loved in All the Devils Are Here. I also feel that the ending was extremely convoluted and I had to go back and reread the final chapters in order to sort through the details to understand whodunnit. With two murders, it was quite a mess.
And yet, this is not to say that I didn't enjoy The Madness of Crowds. I took my time, savoring the the book, trying not to rush to the end in order to learn the identity of the killer(s). I enjoyed the winter setting and the return to the close knit community of friends, family and neighbors. I didn't mind the backdrop of the post-pandemic world, about which some have voiced their complaints. I even fell in love with the beautiful cover art (by David Baldeosingh Rotstein) and endpapers (by MaryAnna Coleman), which are works of art in and of themselves. I think this 17th book in the series would be a great mystery to discuss with a book club, warts and all. In addition to the literary aspects of the author's writing, the timely and controversial themes are sure to spur debate on certain moral issues.