(30. - 1102.) The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny - Armand and Marie-Reine Gamache are back in Three Pines. Most important, their newest grandchild, Idola, is present. Idola has Down Syndrome. They love her fiercely.
Colette Roberge, the Chancellor of the Université de l’Estrie, has asked for Armand, Chief Inspectior of the Homicide Division of the Sûreté du Quebec, to provide security for a public address being given by a statistician, Abigail Robinson. She has analyzed massive amounts of information on societies, trends and the Covid pandemic. She has taken a phrase of hope for recovery from the pandemic, All will be well, and twisted it into a phrase supporting her thesis that for the world to recover from the pandemic and thrive there needs to be “mercy” killings, especially of the aged, and abortions of the deformed unborn. Those who burden society are to be removed.
Annie and Jean-Guy, the daughter and son-in-law of the Gamaches, are the parents of Idola. Jean-Guy feels guilty about considering Idola a “burden”. He and Annie had considered abortion when they learned she had Down’s Syndrome but felt it wrong to abort when the baby was developing normally in every other way.
Wisely preparing for the worst, Armand has dozens of agents at the hall where Robinson is to speak to an overflowing crowd.
Robinson avoids rhetoric and incendiary statements. She is mild in speech going through her statistical analysis dispassionately. She is convincing because she appears and speaks rationally. Moral consequences do not fit into statistics. While most are repelled by her conclusions, there are many eager to embrace them:
Of course, if Professor Robinson’s findings were implemented, it meant the right to die became the obligation to die, but sacrifices needed to be made. In a free society.
Whose life should be considered not worthy? Robinson’s statistics tell her.
As she moves into her address firecrackers provide distraction and then two shots are fired at Robinson.
Armand and his team are protecting a woman whose views Armand abhors. He had experienced the official indifference to the fate of the elderly and infirm in Quebec nursing homes who died in droves early in the pandemic. And there is Idola.
While Robinson would kill thousands, even millions, for the greater good who would kill to thwart the spread of her ideas.
Penny creates an amazing New Year’s Eve party. Everyone from the village gathers at the Auberge. An intellectual confrontation over scientific “facts” and “truths” takes place while the children of the village, carrying on a Québecois tradition, act out a fable which this year is “The Animals Sick of the Plague”.
There has been grave debate within the celebration of the new year. Whether goodness is fragile. Will a death end a movement or create a martyr for the cause?
Then murder is done in the woods outside the inn. All present are suspects as no one is sure whether the deceased was the intended victim and fierce emotions are swirling about that might sway any of them to kill
Robinson has caused an emotional reckoning of the worth of lives.
A retired doctor, Vincent Gilbert, provides a description of those with Down Syndrome:
“They’re kind. Content. They don’t judge. They don’t hide their feelings. There’s no hidden agenda. Complete acceptance. If that isn’t grace, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying people with Down Syndrome are perfect or always easy. That would be to trivalize them, make them sound like pets. What I am saying is that in my experience they make better humans than most.”
Everyone has a family member who is profoundly disabled. It may be a child or an adult or a senior. Penny provides examples from the families of the characters. A chill went through me as I thought of Penny’s brilliant husband, Michael, who endured a devastating decline with Alzheimer’s. How Penny and friends worked together to keep him safe and comfortable and loved at home. And how he died with Penny holding his hand.
On virtually every page there is a scene or a conversation or a reflection that caused me to lift my eyes from the book and think upon what I had just read. There were pages where I murmured aloud with wonderment.
The startling depths of connections between the characters are amazing. Intricate but never implausible. Suffering going back generations is revealed.
The Madness of Crowds is a return to my favourite books in the series where Armand solves a challenging crime with his brains - where his mind is more important than his gun.
Amidst the exploration of great questions of life and death and investigation of murder Penny emphasizes the small joys of family and community life. Taking a grandchild out for a toboggan ride. Blueberry pancakes and maple smoked bacon for breakfast.
(It is a book so rich in storylines and characters that I need another two posts to set out my reactions and thoughts upon the book.)