The Madness of Crowds
Adults and children are skating on the newly iced over ponds, stopping only briefly to warm themselves with hot chocolate and then rushing back to the ice. On the snowy slopes, the skis and toboggans that were so recently under Christmas trees are being tested. Over at the bistro, the tables are filled with local citizens enjoying a meal and conversation. The sweet life has returned to Three Pines, Quebec Canada.
For Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his family this is a particularly welcomed holiday season. Paris, the Pandemic, and the quarantines are behind them and most importantly the family is together. Time to relax and reacquaint with friends and loved ones. The Pandemic is over, we can breathe!
Of course, there will be a detour on this roadway to normalcy. Armand receives a request (really a summons) to plan and provide crowd control and security at a lecture being given by a visiting Professor of Statistics, Abigail Robinson, three days before New Year’s. One would think that factoring in the lecture date, the snowy weather, and the statistics topic, the attendance would probably be between eight and ten people.
As Armand learns, this professor offers a theory based on statistics that plays into people’s fears. The Covid Pandemic revealed deep disturbing societal weaknesses that are not easily cured. Indeed, there is even discord over What should be remedied and how to do it. People are emotionally spent. It seems unfair to have to face more concerns for survival. How do you know the right path?
The day of the lecture, Armand checks and triple checks his plan for control and security. While apprehensive, he feels he has done as much as possible to control the situation. Unfortunately, not everyone performs their job correctly and the lecture is disrupted when shots are fired at Professor Robinson. Luckily, she was not harmed but Chief Inspector Gamache faces scrutiny for the failure. That he can handle. What unsettles Armand is who and why failed to follow orders.
Plans for the New Year’s celebration in Three Pines continue and Armand continues exploring the failed lecture event and the impact of Professor Robinsons view of the future. The news that the University Chancellor and Professor Robinson will be attending the celebrations in Three Pines does little to ease the situation. A festive party is planned, a bonfire is prepared, fireworks are planned- everyone is looking ahead to a real “Happy New Year.”
At the actual gathering, the unexpected happens. Events and action from the past come to light. Residents and visitors face scrutiny and concerns are raised. When a dead body is found, the questions are who is it and why did this death occur. Armand now faces a complex problem. The weather and time of day have an impact on the investigation. The number of people at the party must be interviewed and their information interpreted. As only he can, Gamache patiently and carefully examines each clue, each reaction, each little difference. Though some revelations are shaky and difficult to accept, Armand’s investigation is soothing to the reader because Armand will not be rushed, will take no short cuts. He recognizes his own emotions and biases and will only be satisfied when every piece fits. He is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.
I felt that this book is Louise Penny’s attempt to remind us that the COVID Pandemic may well be ending but there is still another Pandemic out there and this one cannot be cured with a vaccine.
The Madness of Crowds can be read as a standalone novel but there are references to incidents, actions and reactions that were fully covered in prior novels. The lack of explanations in the current novel can leave one questioning, “What is the significance of this that I am not privy to?” The ultimate question is does this lack of detail of the past detract from the impact of the current story.
This book was difficult to accept. It is dispiriting that all we’ve been through may not be the end of our struggles. Seems we’ll need Armand for some time in the future. I feel certain he will dutifully accept this burden and we will have more opportunities to “enjoy” his efforts.