The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny
Narrator: Robert Bathurst
Series: Inspector Gamache #17
Published by Macmillan Audio on August 24, 2021
Source: Purchased
Genres: Mystery
Length: 14 hrs 50 mins
Pages: 436
Format: Audiobook
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four-half-stars

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines in #1 New York Times bestseller Louise Penny's latest spellbinding novel.

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.

My mom and I both read Penny’s Gamache series. She loves all of them; I like the “smaller” mysteries, the ones that don’t involve institutional corruption or cross-country drug trafficking. The Madness of Crowds is one of those smaller, more personal mysteries. We’re back in Three Pines, which is always nice, and Gamache and his whole family are there for the holidays. Gamache is asked to provide security for a professor’s lecture, but, of course, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. The professor’s visit and talk lead to moral dilemmas, violence, and ultimately a death. 

The mystery itself was fine. We have several suspects, even if I question why a couple of them would make the list- the motives seem rather weak. The clues are revealed slowly, allowing us to discover them along with Gamache as he and his team pull back the layers of people’s lives, discovering their secrets and past choices.

Penny does touch on COVID, or the virus, but it felt a little awkward. In the book, the virus is no longer a worry, thanks to the vaccine, but here at least, we’re once again dealing with an upswing. I almost feel like ignoring COVID would have been better than pretending it was in the past. Yes, that would have left out a particular event that recently helped solidify Gamache’s views, but that could have been replaced. Or maybe we’re supposed to see this as set in the near future? But I’m not sure we’re going to be free of COVID even then.

The social commentary was front and center here, for better or worse. And each of the characters has their own viewpoint, even though the vast majority disagree with the professor. Her ideas aren’t new though, she’s just able to rouse a crowd. And people who can rouse a crowd can be dangerous.

Characters are Penny’s strong suit. We have all the regulars here, although most are underused. We also have a couple of newcomers who add an interesting twist to the mix. Likable and moral do not necessarily go hand in hand.

I liked this one. There are a lot of disturbing issues brought up and it’s not necessarily a fun read, but it is gripping and thought-provoking.

About Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY (born 1958), a former CBC radio journalist, is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of fourteen Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has been awarded the John Creasey Dagger, Nero, Macavity and Barry Awards, as well as two each of the Arthur Ellis and Dilys Awards. Additionally, Penny has won six Agatha Awards and five Anthony Awards, and has been a finalist for an Edgar Award. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

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