The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #17), by Louise Penny

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve long been a fan of Louise Penny’s series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Satisfyingly, Penny is more than capable of writing thrilling mysteries but additionally she has never been shy to address the major topics of our time (this book being no exception…).

Then there is the almost mystical village of Three Pines in which most of the novels play out and which features some rather unique characters – from the gifted but struggling painter to the grumpy crazy poet, the “Asshole Saint” and everything in between.

These factors still make me look forward to each new novel. Even after 16 prior books!

»“And for your information,” she told Gabri when he’d shown up with gardening gloves and a trowel, “I like weed.” “Weeds, you mean,” he said. “Maybe,” said the old poet.«

In this seventeenth instalment Gamache investigates the attempted murder of professor Abigail Robinson and the murder of Robinson’s assistant, Debbie, on New Year’s Eve. In this book’s setting, the COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, mentioned (and actually features in a few details) but, thankfully, over. (And lest anyone worries: None of our friends have perished!)

Robinson promotes an agenda of mandatory (!) euthanasia and eugenics and a friend of Gamache asks for him personally to protect the controversial professor during a speech.

Being the grandfather of Idola – the child of his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Gamache’s daughter – who has trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and, first of all, a decent human being, Gamache is strongly opposed to Robinson’s inhuman agenda.

»It was Sunday afternoon. The next morning Armand Gamache had an appointment with the Premier of Québec. To show him the files. And to let him know, quietly, confidentially, that if there was any move to adopt mandatory euthanasia, or anything vaguely smelling of eugenics, those files would go public. It was, he knew, blackmail. But he and his conscience could live with that.«

Like a recurring theme or even a mantra Penny uses the phrase “Ça va bien aller.” or its English translation “It’s going to be fine.” throughout the book even though this is not actually certain this time around.
Especially since a new side character, Haniya Daoud, who fled rape and torture in her native Sudan and went on to build a movement for social justice is introduced. At several important points in the book, Daoud – nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – serves to add an additional point of view; and her views are often rather bleak…

In this novel I also first learnt about Canadian scientist-gone-torturer, Ewen Cameron, who actually managed to torture patients using, drugs, poisons (!) and electro shocks until as late as 1964 without their prior knowledge or consent.

So, there are, admittedly, a lot of issues that Penny is tackling in the aptly titled “The Madness of Crowds” but she does so extremely well and engagingly. As Penny mentions in her acknowledgements, she also reflects on “What happens to tip people over into madness?”.

To any current fan of this series, this instalment is highly recommended as we return from the rather mediocre “All the Devils Are Here” and Paris to where this series belongs.
Anyone who wants to get acquainted with the series should take a look at an earlier book, e. g. the excellent “How the Light Gets In”.

Five out of five stars.

Oh, and I certainly enjoyed the last tongue-in-cheek sentence of the acknowledgements: »All this to say, if you didn’t like the book, it’s their fault.«

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