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by Louise Penney
Minotaur, August 2021
448 pages
ISBN: 1250145260

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE MADNESS OF CROWDS, the new Louise Penny novel, familiar characters we have grown to know and love are back in the small Quebec village of Three Pines. In her previous book in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, Gamache and his family were in Paris. But now everyone is home, and as the novel opens, it is the winter holiday season, cold and snowy as expected. It is also a post-pandemic world, and this timing is an important plot point.

The sense of festivity is disrupted by the arrival of Abigail Robinson, a professor of statistics, who has planned a last-minute rally to increase awareness of her controversial ideas. Basing her statistical study on the results of the recent pandemic, where the sick and the old were the first to get the disease and die, and whose illnesses were costly to the public, Abigail has come up with a plan. Since the country needs all the resources it can muster to get back on track after the year of disruption, she has looked at the statistics and come up with an idea that many find horrifying. She basically believes that state-enforced euthanasia, culling of the weak and the disabled and the elderly, will give the rest of the population a better chance for a successful life.

Gamache finds himself in the unenviable position of having to provide security for her event, although he has great misgivings about being helpful to her repulsive agenda. It becomes increasingly unclear as to who has invited her, what has motivated her to come to Three Pines, and who she may be there to see. At her presentation, a shooting takes place, and only by falling on Abigail with his own body is Gamache able to save her. Trying to find out who perpetrated this attempted murder becomes the focus, but then, on New Year's Eve, something even worse occurs.

Gamache and his colleagues research Abigail's life and her associations. She had a difficult childhood, with the death of both a disabled sister and her mother and then the suicide of her father. She is very close to a childhood friend, Debbie Schneider, who is her aide and intimate friend. Perhaps there are connections here to the present-day events and even to the genesis of her odious ideas and the investigators spend much time and energy to find them.

There is also another unusual visitor in Three Pines, Haniya Daoud, a woman who has escaped from a war-torn country and carries the visible scars of her captivity and torture. She is a possible recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is also not clear what she is doing in the village. Could she be involved in the on-going crisis with Abigail?

As always, Louise Penny uses the events of her novel to comment on the deeper questions of existence. Ideas about life itself and how people cope with love and loss are never far from the hearts and minds of the characters. The solution to the mystery of what occurs and why in THE MADNESS OF CROWDS is not simple, and as readers we are tossed back and forth among many alternatives, motives, and perpetrators. All of these seem plausible, but the truth we learn at the end is well-supported and satisfying.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, August 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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