The Madness of Crowds [Book Review]

September 14, 2021

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny (cover) Image: white and light blue text over the background of the graphic silhouette of a pine tree with sunburst of various bright colors behind the tree

Genre/Categories/Setting: Contemporary Fiction, Crime Fiction, Mystery/Detective, Police Procedural, Canada, post Pandemic

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

The Madness of Crowds is the seventeenth installment of the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series. Although I recommend reading the series in order, this particular book is easily read as a stand alone.

As the New Year’s celebration approaches and the residents of Three Pines enjoy snow sports and hot chocolate in the bistro, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is asked to provide security for a visiting professor who is giving a lecture at a nearby university. At first glance, it seems like an easy enough assignment, but then he realizes that the professor has a repulsive agenda that Gamache can’t endorse. He urges the university to cancel the lecture, but they cite academic freedom and the event proceeds. When a murder occurs, Gamache and his team will need to set aside their personal convictions and find the killer.

My Thoughts:

“Strange things happen when gullibility and fear meet greed and power.”

It’s Complicated: Honestly, I have a lot of complicated feelings about this new installment from Louise Penny. I’m a huge fan of the series, but this one was a bit underwhelming for me and I have some complicated feelings. There’s so much hatred and controversy in the media right now that to read about a similar scenario in an escapist read might be too much.

Controversy: First, I must mention that Penny attempts a difficult topic in the book (mandated euthanasia of elderly and disabled of all ages) and manages to present both sides effectively. Gamache’s struggle between his personal convictions and free speech is compelling and the argument for and against is thoroughly explored. In fact, Gamache is so conflicted that I wondered if he was capable of doing his job and leading his team. Penny is to be commended for exploring a complex and controversial topic.

Execution: The greatest weakness of the story for me is that it lagged in the middle. Perhaps Gamache’s struggle and conflicted emotions spilled over into the police procedural and pacing aspects of the story. To me, the investigation became repetitive and circular….going around and around without any progress….like a hamster on a wheel. I became bored and stopped caring about any of the characters and just wanted Penny to bring the story to an end. In fact, I admit to skimming good portions of the latter half of the book.

Lack of Subplots: One of the reasons I love the Three Pines series is for its subplots involving family relationships, backstories of the team members, corruption in the police department, and/or political problems with bureaucracy. This story was simply focused on the problematic topic and I think the complexity of that didn’t leave room to explore subplots or other themes. I was especially disappointed to see only a brief mention of Daniel and no reference to the family dynamics after the dramatic conclusion to All the Devils Are Here.

Recommended: I think readers who love a complex and controversial topic might like The Madness of Crowds. Fans of the Three Pines series will want to read it and other reviewers have given glowing reviews which you might want to check out. Overall, this is a good story but I was underwhelmed and it won’t be a favorite for me in the series.

Content Consideration: Euthanasia, post Pandemic, death of a child (in the past), suicide (in the past)

Related: A Better Man, All the Devils Are Here, Kingdom of the Blind, Glass Houses and Inspector Gamache Series

My Rating:  3 Stars


The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny (cover) Image: a darkened pine tree with burst of colors radiating outward from behind it

The Madness of Crowds Information Here

Meet the Author, Louise Penny

Author, Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY is the author of the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling series of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (seven times), and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. In 2017, she received the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian culture. Louise lives in a small village south of Montréal.


Is The Madness of Crowds on your TBR or have you read it?

Have you read other books in the Three Pines series?

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  1. I wasn’t as enraptured by this as I have been with earlier books in the series. I was lacking the connection with the individuals who live in Three Pines – as I said in my own review, they felt incidental this time. I also thought the references to the pandemic were far too simplistic.

  2. What a bummer to have such complicated feelings about a favorite series! I have such high expectations for this book but your review and several others have me worried it will disappoint. I’m intrigued, but it sounds like it might be too heavy for me right now. I’m way down on my library’s waitlist—hopefully by the time my turn comes up, I’ll be ready!

  3. I keep meaning to read one of this series but perhaps this wouldn’t be the best place to start, going by your review! I really should start at the beginning, I suppose. Great review, really filled me in on the book – thank you!

    • I’m happy you found the review helpful! Other reviewers have loved it and it’s received a healthy share of 5 star ratings! Soooo…..if you want to try one before you start way back at the beginning, this one might give you an idea of her content and writing style!

  4. I’m still slowly working my way through this series and am nowhere near up to number 17! I appreciate your honesty in your review Carol and will continue on with my reading of each book in the series, I’m late to the Louise Penny party!

  5. This sounds like a situation where the theme and issues overtook the normal stories and what people have come to love about this series. Wonderful and thoughtful review Carol.

  6. The setting in Three Pines was welcome after the trip to Paris last book. The author must have been very disturbed by things that came out of the pandemic, such as the disproportionate number of deaths in care homes and certain people’s reactions (lack of caring, philosophical attitudes). I think she is a person who feels very deeply for her fellows and this is why she had to write the book. Yes, it does become repetitive and there are so many possible and oft-revisited possibilities offered. The book falls short on entertainment, as we know and love her past work. But it does deliver the message without a doubt.

    • I agree! It was nice to be back in Three Pines! I do appreciate her ability to take risks and explore controversial topics. Maybe it was too realistic and not enough escapism for me! I always love Gamache for wrestling with moral dilemmas! Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion Kim!

  7. I was relieved to find that someone else just wanted the book to end without so much circular discussion. I had the same problem with her previous book. But I still respect. L. Penny for tackling complex issues and for setting her stories in a familiar bilingual village, like where I live.

  8. I’ve read the series and look forward to each one as they are released. Thanks for this. I agree. I just couldn’t get into it. Tried several times. Lost interest.

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