The Madness of Crowds #17 Inspector Gamache by Louise Penny
The Madness of Crowds #17 by Louise Penny
Published 2021, 436 pages
First line: "This doesn't feel right, patron." Isabelle Lacoste's voice in his earpiece was anxious, verging on urgent."
Main characters: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Inspector/son-in-law Jean Guy Beauvior, Inspector Isabelle Lacoste; Abigail Robinson, statistician.
This book is set after vaccinations for Covid were available, but references here and there in the story to Covid clearly set the tone. There are references to the isolation and to the reactions/feelings of various characters.
An unusual situation arises just before New Years when Gamache is tasked to provide security for a guest speaker at a nearby college. It's unusual because he's the head of homicide (!) and because he and his team are on leave for that week. But, it's from the boss - so he researches the speaker and the venue and discovers it's a controversial woman statistician who claims to have found the answer to Canada's problems, realized after studying the statistics around covid deaths. She is proposing a mandated euthanasia of elderly or 'undesirable' children (any with birth defects).
The public reacts violently - some in support and some in disagreement - until.....there is a murder. As Gamache and his team investigate, Penny takes the opportunity to explore some difficult themes. The right of free speech and where is the line when it's not okay? The ethics and morality of euthanasia; the value of a life ... a child with Downs syndrome (Beauvoir's baby daughter) or elderly (Gamache's godfather), or mentally challenged (the old poet Ruth?); the power of being caught up in a crowd that becomes a mob. SO much!
"Quebec was a society that felt things strongly and wasn't afraid to express them. Which was a very good thing. It meant they were doing something right. The goal of any healthy society was to keep people safe to express sometimes unpopular views."
Another winner - honestly, how DOES she do it? Penny consistently has new and different topics around which a murder occurs. Her research provides depth and interest beyond the police procedural part of the story. And her characters! Sheesh - she continues to find circumstances that shows their personal growth. This time it revolves around the idea of euthanasia for 'defective' births which hits Gamache and Beauvoir especially hard since there's now a child with Down's Syndrome in the family.
Gamache's philosophy on finding a killer is referenced one way or another in every book and is stated here:
"What I do know is that how we feel drives what we think, and that determines what we do. Our actions leave behind evidence, those facts you mention. But it all starts with emotion."
He is always coming back to questioning the underlying emotion. Sometimes the original event is years ago and the emotion is carried / buried for years until an unexpected event causes the killer to strike. Gamache plumbs those depths and is always looking for the feelings. Such a great approach for a reader. I thoroughly enjoy the brainstorming of the police team as they try to figure out the killer and the motivation. It's very well done.
Most of the stories are set in the harsh Yukon winter and she invariably tries to convey the bitter cold, the dangers of being outside not properly dressed, the beauty of newly fallen snow, etc. It's clear she loves Quebec in all its seasons.
"What is essential is invisible to the eye. Knowledge, ideas, thoughts. Imagination. All invisible. All lived in libraries."
If you haven't tried this series yet, let me encourage you to do so. Add it to your next library request. You can thank me later.