The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #170, by Louise Penny

Nine stars

I can be assured of something sensational when Louise Penny pens a Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel and I was not disappointed with the latest offering. Penny develops a strong story and layers it with narrative twists that take the reader on an adventure, without venturing too far from the bucolic community of Three Pines. Gamache juggles another homicide and some family issues as he focuses his attention on that which many overlook. Penny provides some of the best descriptive writing I have seen in years, entertaining and offering social commentary along the way. I cannot offer enough praise to her for what she’s done with this novel and series.

The rural community of Three Pines, Quebec is in the festive season with the New Year on the horizon. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is looking forward to spending some time with family only to have it cut short by an odd request. When a visiting Professor of Statistics arrives to deliver a lecture at the local university, she’s in need of some security. Abigail Robinson has made a name for herself and causes a whirlwind of sentiment wherever she goes. Enter, Gamache.

During the lecture, shots are fired and Professor Robinson is whisked off to safety, leaving Chief Inspector Gamache to determine what’s happened and how security has been compromised. While the shooter is identified and taken into custody, Gamache is not ready to rest on his laurels. As New Year’s Eve celebrations begin, Gamache cannot help but wonder if the shooting was planned well ahead of time.

After a body is discovered in town early on New Year’s Day, Chief Inspector Gamache opens up the investigation. The body is soon identified as Professor Robinson’s assistant, leaving some to wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity in the pale moonlight. However, nothing is as simple as that and Gamache pulls together his team of Homicide investigators to comb through all the evidence.

With a number of subplots taking the investigation in a handful of directions, Gamache must pay close attention to what’s before him and peel back the layers to get to the heart of the matter. With the usual Three Pines residents adding flavour to an already busy story, it’s no doubt that the madness of crowds will cloud Gamache’s thoughts on a regular basis.

It was a few years ago that I stumbled upon Louise Penny and this stunning series, which grips onto the reader and will not let go. Penny develops complex storylines and lively characters throughout the novel to educate and entertain in equal measure. Many have applauded Penny’s work and this novel falls in line with many of the preceding books, making it well worth the reader’s time and effort.

While Chief Inspector Armand Gamache remains front and centre throughout, Penny brings back many of her core characters to offer a number of perspectives and lighter moments amidst the heartier narrative. Many of the familiar faces are past offering backstories, though there is some minor character development in the piece, primarily in the realm of Gamache’s own family. This provides some interesting subplot development and Penny does not shy away with the controversy there. Those familiar with Penny’s writing will likely enjoy her introduction of some new faces throughout this novel.

I have read a number of novels lately that allow me to push through in short order. However, Penny’s novels always force me to pay close attention and listen/notice the nuances offered throughout the narrative. The story moves quickly and the reader is pulled into the middle of it all, never losing its momentum throughout, though there is so much going on, making it difficult to enjoy without investing my full attention. Strong characters appear throughout and keep the reader on their toes. Some novels appear to lose steam the longer the series progresses, but Penny is able to defy the norm and has me begging her to keep writing years into the future. I can only hope that this collection of Canadian mysteries receive their due and readers from all over the world take notice.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for showcasing Canada so effectively. Brilliant work, sure to impress readers who take the time to enjoy your novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: