Thursday, September 08, 2022

Fiction Review: The Madness of Crowds

My very last audio book for #BigBookSummer 2022 was also my first audio for the fall R.I.P. Challenge, The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. This is #17 in her Inspector Gamache series. I haven't read the whole series (just #1, Still Life, and #15, A Better Man, before this one), but I always enjoy these thoughtful mysteries set in a small town near Quebec, where the characters and community are as much a part of the story as the crime being solved.

This novel begins in 2021, just after the COVID vaccines have become available and the worst of the pandemic and lock-down are over. As life "gets back to normal," Gamache and his team are called in to provide security for a talk at a small nearby university. This seems like a strange assignment to Gamache. It's the middle of the holiday season, between Christmas and New Year's, and the speaker is a statistician. Why would they need police protection? Then he looks up some of Professor Abigail Robinson's past speeches and is stunned by what he sees. She carefully presents statistics from the recent pandemic and other events and presents her conclusions that in the future, there will not be enough resources for the whole population. Most startlingly, she presents her own solution to these problems, a solution that horrifies Inspector Gamache and would affect his own family personally. Now he understand why Professor Robinson is attracting so much controversy and why police protection will be needed at her local talk, though he still hopes there won't be a large crowd, given the timing. The evening of the talk, a huge crowd shows up, and despite Gamache's team's presence, someone somehow manages to get a gun inside and fires shots at the professor on stage. Gamache saves her life, and the police manage to calm the crowd and prevent a riot. Over the next few days, while they are working to solve the case, an actual murder occurs to someone near Professor Robinson, and they now must solve two--possible related?--cases. At the same time, Three Pines is hosting another famous visitor, a woman known as the Hero of the Sudan, who underwent unspeakable torture as a young girl and managed to escape and free the other girls. She's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but she seems to be very unlikable, even among this welcoming community. While the team works to solve the crimes, the controversy over Professor Robinson's proposals rages, and the town of Three Pines proceeds with its holiday celebrations.

This novel is the perfect example of what I most like about Louise Penny's Gamache novels; they are thoughtful and thought-provoking. As she herself explained in an interview I recently watched, her novels aren't actually about murder; they are about life, choices, and love. In this one, especially, she uses this fictional controversial person and proposal, as well as the paradox of the unlikable hero, to help readers think about the extremism we see in the real world right now, as her characters grapple with some very difficult, disturbing questions. As always, the mystery is a twisty and complicated one. I changed my mind a half dozen times about who the murderer was and why they killed. It's not until the very end that Gamache himself finally figures it out, so there is plenty of tension and suspense here. All of these difficult questions and criminal evidence, though, is set against the beautiful, comforting backdrop of Three Pines and its quirky but lovable residents. In this way, Penny provides a completely engrossing story that is part mystery, part family and community drama, and part thoughtful expression of modern issues.

448 pages, Minotaur Books

Macmillan Audio

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books - Canada (Quebec)

Big Book Summer Challenge

R.I.P. Challenge

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, excellent as usual and narrated by Robert Bathhurst, and/or download it from Audible.


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Or you can order The Madness of Crowds from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. Great review and you have given me reason to get into this series. I like the idea of the books being about life, choices and love. I do have the first book on audio, maybe I'll start there although I have heard the first couple of books are a bit not so good as the rest?

    1. I enjoyed #1, Still Life, but I would say - based on my limited experience with 3 books!) - that she definitely gets more thoughtful in the later books. However, given your reading tastes, Kathryn, I think you will love the town of Three Pines and the quirky people who live there, so Still Life will give you a good start in getting to know them :)

  2. I've only read the first in her series, but really enjoyed it. I need to remember to read more of them.

    1. I think they get better and better, Helen (based on the 3 I've read!) - definitely more thoughtful and thought-provoking, rather than just simple mysteries.