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.
There’s a kind of breathlessness about the style of writing. Full of throwaway comments like ‘….Gamache knew the wraiths hidden in this basement. He could even name them. Not actually an advantage, when it came to wraiths.’ And the sweary duck. What’s that all about? I think maybe if I had read at least some of the previous 16 books I would understand. Especially about the duck. And the monkeys. Or maybe not the monkeys.
“They brush them with garlic butter, then grill them over coals,” says the Asshole Saint Dr Vincent Gilbert.
“What a coincidence,” replies Gamache, scanning the menu. “Exactly what I plan to do with you.”
The writing, the dark humour and the repartee are brilliant. I love it.
But this is no comedy. There’s been a murder, the body found lying face down in the snow. Who is it and why did someone kill her? So many questions, so many suspects. And how does this link to other events many years in the past? If it even does.
The plot revolves around Professor Abigail Robinson whose statistics show that there won’t be enough money to go round following the Covid pandemic. She therefore suggests that the sick and elderly should be euthanised in order to protect the rest. And this also includes disabled babies and children. I’m reminded of Nazi Germany and the theory of eugenics. But are Abigail’s conclusions spurious? Can statistics be manipulated? And is fear and desperation the reason for The Madness of Crowds? It would appear so as people are buying into it. And she’s coming to a university near you to cause unrest and the threat of violence.
There is a lot of discussion between the main characters such as Armand Gamache, his son-in-law Jean-Guy, his wife Reine-Marie, fellow police officer Isabelle and Chancellor Collette Roberge. Occasionally there is too much speculation and I started to lose track at times.
And what part does Haniya Douad play? Called the Hero of the Sudan and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, I didn’t really understand why she is there, except maybe as a sounding board. Unless we have met her before, though I don’t think we have.
I really enjoyed this book, though I wish I had read at least one or two of the others. Then I would have understood the characters better and there are a lot of them. But it’s a brilliant, intelligent read, sometimes more of a why-done-it than a who-done-it.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.
About the Author
LOUISE PENNY is the author of the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling series of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (seven times), and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. In 2017, she received the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian culture. Louise lives in a small village south of Montréal.