Book Review

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Format: Hardback, 448 pages
Genre: Murder-Mystery

Back Cover Blurb

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.

What I Thought

Louise Penny gives us all the usual ingredients, with the now familiar cast of characters we’ve come to love and respect in Three Pines, and then, throws in the usual mix of mayhem, mystery and, of course, the eventual murder.

Nothing wrong here. Everything is unfolding as it should. We have Chief Inspector Gamache being asked to provide security for a very unusual event, for a very controversial professor, Abigail Robinson, who’s promoting her brand of ‘How To Save The World’. But all doesn’t turn out as planned, as is usual in any Louise Penny book.

The characters are never black and white, all are well written, and the cast is fully fleshed out, the story intriguing and full of its own share of controversy. So why at the three quart mark of the read does everything seem to fall apart, badly?

Lack of clarity for one thing. There are way too many characters voicing their opinions by this point, I guess, in an attempt to muddy the waters as to who, exactly was supposed to be murdered. And more importantly, why.

So that, in this final quarter of the read, there is way too much going on and, well, to be honest, not a lot going on if that makes sense. It’s as if everything is being reiterated first in one setting, then in another, as our three main police characters of Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste, hop from one theory to another then back around again. And then? Do it all again not pages later without adding anything new to any of these, what became, repetitive discussions.

It all started to get rather tedious at one point.

Add in to this mess, never mind the fundamental moral dilemma everyone’s dealing with and reacting too, Penny adds a third dimension with another character. Visiting Three Pines as all this is unfolding is Nobel-Prize nominee the Sudanese ‘hero’, Haniya Daoud. A 23 year old survivor of war and rape who, as it turns out, has murdered in order to survive. Her dark story of survival another discourse on how dark people will go in order to survive and save others.

But there are no clear cut ‘monsters’ or ‘angels’ here, but traumatised, flawed characters. All well and good, you would think. And typical of a Louise Penny book she asks a lot of questions of us.

So again, why did this one, in the end, fail for me? Because the storyline became so muddled, with too many discussions at an attempt to misdirect, and a complete failure to clarify the facts that were being presented so, for me at least, when the final showdown came, I was actually confused.

I was literally spluttering to the book: “… but you just told us X had the only opportunity to get the murder weapon and now … you’re telling us Y did the murder?”

I was so confused I went back several pages and reread the whole section from point A to point B. But, alas, to little avail. I was none the wiser as to how one person was being finger-pointed by the evidence only to have another character declared the eventual murderer without proof.

To clarify, I’ve been on Goodreads since I wrote this review, this morning, and checked what others thought, and I’m not the only one who seems to have been left confused and irritated by the final part of the book. That said, up until then, I did thoroughly enjoy this dark trip into the human soul by Penny, and will leave it up to you, dear reader, to read this one for yourself and see what you think.

In summary, if I were to rate this one, it would be 3.5 stars. More out of courtesy to the author, who usually delivers better than this.


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