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Book Author: Louise Penny

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS by Louise Penny: Book Review

The COVID pandemic is over, at least in Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, but the frenzy it has provoked in many places is clearly still around.

Virtually everyone in Québec has been vaccinated against the virus, and things are almost back to normal.  So much so that when Abigail Robinson, a professor of statistics, wants to give a lecture at a small local university, there appears to be no reason to deny her.  Except that her talk has the potential to cause a riot.

Citing freedom of speech, the university’s chancellor, Collette Roberge, refuses to stop the presentation.  Instead, she asks Inspector Armand Gamache, chief of homicide of the Sûreté du Québec, to provide the security for the event.  Having viewed videos of Dr. Robinson’s previous lectures, they both know their incendiary nature, but the chancellor is steadfast in her rejection of Armand’s plea to rescind the invitation, despite the possibility of violence.

Since Gamache doesn’t have the authority to cancel the talk, all he and his officers can do is provide as much security as possible.  In truth neither Armand nor Collette expects many people to attend, given that it’s the Christmas holiday and Professor Robinson’s talk will be in English in the French-speaking province.  But the overflow crowd pushing its way into the university’s gymnasium proves the two of them wrong, and it becomes obvious that people on both sides of the question have come prepared to make their voices heard.

Abigail Robinson’s trademark phrase, Ça va bien aller (All will be well), is a promise that the future holds better times, that the economy will recover, that there will never again be a shortage of either health care facilities or the financial ability to help all.  Well, almost all.

If, and this is the big if, the elderly, the incurably ill, and the severely handicapped are helped to their deaths by involuntary euthanasia, a.k.a mercy killing, then all will be well for everyone else.  “If the pandemic has taught us anything,” she tells the crowd, “it’s that not everyone can be saved.  Sacrifices must be made.”

Professor Robinson begins her speech, and as she says the pivotal line, “It’s called—” three explosions rip through the air.  In the first few seconds after the bangs are heard, the crowd starts to stampede toward the exits, pausing only after Gamache repeatedly says in English and French that the noises were firecrackers.  Isabelle Lacoste, a member of Gamache’s staff, holds up the string of firecrackers and people start to relax and return to their seats.  Until another loud bang is heard, and this time it’s a gunshot.

Louise Penny has written an incredibly timely and fascinating novel.  She obviously began writing during the pandemic, and when the novel was completed, COVID appeared to be under control.  But, as we all know, that was before the Delta variant became widespread, leading to more illness and death, as well as more false information about the efficacy of and need for vaccines, social distancing, and masking.

As of this writing, every newspaper is filled with information/mis-information about vaccines and masks and people’s fear of what could be next.  The Madness of Crowds is a work of fiction, but it is scarily close to what could happen/is happening around the world.

You can read more about Louise Penny at this website. 

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE GLASS HOUSE by Louise Penny: Book Review

We return to Three Pines, a Quebéc village so remote that it appears on no map but not so remote that it doesn’t have its share, or more, of murder.  Once again, the quiet place where Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté of Quebéc, and his wife Reine-Marie live has become not a refuge from crime but a location filled with it.

The Glass House begins with Gamache seated on the witness stand in a murder trial.  It’s becoming obvious to the court reporters and especially to the judge that there’s something distinctly odd going on between Gamache and the crown prosecutor.  There’s a strong animosity in the questions that the prosecutor is putting to the chief inspector, and although the two men should be on the same side, it’s almost as if the attorney wants to catch his witness in some untruth or misrepresentation.

The novel goes back and forth between the courtroom and the events that precede the trial.  When the Gamaches and their friends gather for a Halloween party at the bistro in Three Pine, a figure dressed in a long black robe and a black hat appears on the town common.  Although several villagers try to speak to the person wearing the costume, they get no response.  The party continues and then breaks up, but the next morning the figure is still standing on the common.

It’s an eerie situation, but when the townspeople come to Armand for help he tells them there’s nothing he can do.  The figure, no one knows whether it’s a man or a woman, isn’t disturbing the peace in a way for which the chief inspector can arrest him/her or order him/her to leave.  No one is happy with Gamache’s answer, but the figure continues to stand on the common, visible to all.

At the same time, the Sûreté of Quebéc is dealing with its own problems, trying to overcome its history of malfeasance and corruption.  Gamache, who was brought back from retirement to command the province’s police force, is under intense scrutiny, and a media campaign is beginning throughout the province that is meant to underscore his department’s ineffectiveness in fighting crime, most particularly the drug issue.  In fact, Gamache has a plan to combat these problems and restore respect to the Sûreté, but his idea is so outrageous and dangerous that he feels compelled to keep it under wraps, with only a handful of his most trusted colleagues privy to it.

Louise Penny has written a masterful novel in The Glass House For much of the book we aren’t sure who was murdered, and we don’t know until almost the end the identity of the defendant.  We do see, however, the toll this trial and its undercurrents are taking on Gamache and his subordinates as they try to control the drugs inundating Quebéc, taking the lives of thousands in Canada and across the border in the United States.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny: Book Review

For the admirers of all things Québécois, there’s good news for your end-of-summer reading.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back!

Actually, he’s retired Chief Inspector Gamache now.  After a series of incidents that nearly took his life, he has left the force, and now he and his wife, Reine-Marie, are living in the village of Three Pines, the scene of many of his earlier cases.  Now it is his wish to live in there quietly and enjoy the company of his wife and the many friends they’ve made in the community over the years.

But, bien entendu, this is not to be.  Clara Morrow, one of  Armand’s neighbors, very hesitantly comes to him with a problem.  A little over a year ago she and her husband, Peter, decided on a trial separation.  

All through the years of their marriage Peter had been the famous one, a painter of renown throughout Canada.  More recently, however, Clara’s paintings have been recognized for their originality and brilliance, and while her star rose, Peter’s fell.  He has not dealt well with this, not used to being the also-ran in their relationship, and finally Clara asked him to leave their home.  

As Clara tells Armand and his son-in-law, police detective Jean-Guy Beauvoir, at last she had recognized something that was long obvious to their friends.  “He never understood my art.  He tolerated it.  What he couldn’t tolerate was my success.”

The plan was for Peter to return, or at least contact Clara, a year from the date he left to discuss the state of their relationship.  But that date came and went with no word from him.  And now, several weeks later, she has finally worked up enough courage to ask Armand for his help.

Clara has no idea where her husband has gone, but she is convinced that wherever he is, he is painting.  Joined by Armand, Jean-Guy, and her closest friend, Myrna, Clara begins to search for her husband.

Reading The Long Way Home is, in fact, like going home for readers familiar with this series.  Now that Armand and Reine-Marie are finally ensconced in their new home, which actually is the oldest house in the village, they are with their friends on a daily basis. 

Besides Clara, there is Myrna, a psychologist and owner of the village bookstore; Olivier and Gabri, the gay couple who own a bistro in Three Pines; and Ruth, the prize-winning poet with a foul mouth and a duck who appears to speak only vulgarities.  And on the weekends, the Gamaches’ newly-married daughter, Annie, often arrives with her husband, Jean-Guy, Armand’s former colleague and still his close friend. 

Armand Gamache is a good man, struggling with his own demons after nearly losing his life and being unfairly vilified by a colleague during his tenure as chief inspector of homicide in the Sûreté du Québec.  He is working hard to banish these demons, not wanting to go again into any situations that might bring them to the forefront of his thoughts.  But when Clara asks him for help, he cannot refuse.

As with all of Louise Penny’s novels, the characters, with their virtues and flaws, are very, very real.  Watching them age and grow, the reader may see some of her/himself in some or all of them.  This trip back to Three Pines is suspenseful, wonderful, and sad.

You can read more about Louise Penny at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.





THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY by Louise Penny: Book Review

One might imagine that a Catholic monastery, hidden for hundreds of years in the remote Quebec wilderness, would be the last place to look for a murder.  But at Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes (among the wolves), that is exactly what you would find.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete de Quebec are called to the monastery following the death of its proctor, Frere Mathieu.  The proctor was struck down in the abbot’s private garden and was found there by a fellow monk.  And although the community of Saint Gilbert has taken a vow of silence and willingly removed itself from the world, its abbot, Dom Philippe, has called the Surete to investigate this murder.

Saint Gilbert’s has recently become world famous for its recording of Gregorian chants.  Throughout its history, chapters in the Saint Gilbert’s order have practiced near-total silence except for their chanting of prayers several times a day.  A year ago a recording was made of several of these chants and released to the families and friends of the monks.

What then happened was a modern-day phenomenon–suddenly the recording was being heard all over the world and thousands of copies of the CD were sold.  What followed, of course, was an avalanche of unwanted visitors to the remote abbey–news helicopters, visitors from other religious groups, pilgrims–all wanting to meet the monks who had unwittingly given this gift to the wider world.

That avalanche set the scene for the major rift that has split the abbey–those monks, led by the abbot, who want to continue the order’s self-imposed exile and refuse to consider making another recording, and those led by the proctor, who see the recording and its attendant wealth as a gift from God that should be repeated.  The tension comes to a boil when Mathieu is murdered and the community is further divided.

Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Bouvier are dealing with their own personal problems as well as those in the abbey.  A recent police maneuver that Gamache headed went terribly wrong, resulting in the death of four policemen.  In a situation similar to the world-wide interest in the abbey’s Gregorian chants, a video of the raid and its horrific aftermath that was made solely for the Surete was released and went viral.

In that raid, Jean-Guy was badly wounded and became dependent on painkillers.  Although he has been off them for three months at the time the novel opens, it is obvious that his mental health is still fragile.  In addition, he and Annie, Gamache’s daughter, are in love and planning to announce their engagement, but Jean-Guy is fearful of Annie’s parents’ reaction, afraid that they won’t welcome him into their family.

There is a great deal of backstory in The Beautiful Mystery, both in terms of the history of the persecution of the monks of the Saint Gilbert order, going back to the Inquisition, and Gamache’s tenure in the Surete.  All the characters are well drawn, and the author’s obvious love of music, to which she refers in the acknowledgements, comes across throughout the book.  The only thing that would have made this book even better would have been the inclusion of a CD of Gregorian chants.  Lacking that, the next best option is going to YouTube: to hear chanting for yourself.

Louise Penny has written another intriguing chapter in the lives of Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Bouvier, this one with much personal pain suffered by the two men.  The story is deeper and more heartfelt than many others in the genre and not one the reader will easily forget.

You can read more about Louise Penny at her web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.