About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Considering "People" in The Madness of Crowds

In my first two posts on The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny I reviewed the book and discussed its exploration of reacting to evil. I consider the views of the character, Professor Abigail Robinson, supporting “mercy killing” of those who burden society such as the ailing aged or deformed unborn as wicked. How we consider “people” is another important theme of the book.

Some of the best books in the Armand Gamache series probed the depths of the minds of artists. The Madness of Crowds opens by examining the mind of a scientist of numbers, a statistician.

Robinson does not value individuals. It is society - “people” as a group - which is valued by her. The greater good requires sacrificcs.

By contrast, Gamache sees “people” as individuals. He sees persons not categories of worthy and unworthy members of society. 

Gamache looks into the souls of those he questions during investigations. He reflects on their life experience, their aspirations, their motivations and their passions.

In The Madness of Crowds, beyond the strongly individualistic, even idiosyncratic, continuing characters of Three Pines, we read of a pair of striking personalities who defy easy classification.

As set out in my last post Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is a great humanitarian dedicated to the cause of suffering women and children around the world. At the same time she has committed violent acts to survive and has a mean personality with a biting tongue. The Nobel Peace Prize candidate is barely civil in conversation.

The village has a distinguished retired thoracic surgeon, Dr. Vincent Gilbert, living a hermit’s life in the woods near Three Pines. He has saved many lives but is a nasty man whom the villagers refer to as the Asshole Saint.

Great humanists may not be great humans. There are humanists who do not love humans.

Gamache bites back retorts to Daoud’s cruel remarks. He views her as a haunted soul.

With Gilbert, Gamache appreciates his intellect and work as a doctor but sees a self-pitying doctor living in exile who focuses on how everyone’s words and actions affect him.

Gamache cares about each person with whom he meets and talks.

I have spent 46 years in the practice of law. During that time part of my work has been defending men and women charged with criminal offences. I know most are guilty but not all. I do value that our system of criminal justice puts the onus upon the Crown to prove guilt by the high standard of beyond reasonable doubt. I would dread a system where guilt is a statistical analysis.

I strive to see each client as a person. There is a continuous risk in the law as with othe professions to get cynical. I believe our system can only work when accused are judged as inviduals.

I have admired Viktor Fankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who is a Nazi concentration camp surivivor, since I read of him 50 years ago in second year university in a class called The Philosophy of Religion. 

In my review of his great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, I stated:

Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.

For Gamache his grandaughter, Idola, who has Down Syndrome has value as does Abigail Robinson. 

If we all recognize each life is worthy we can defeat the views of those who would believe in an Abigail Robinson.


Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; (2021) - The Madness of Crowds and Responding to Evil; Hardcover


  1. You make a very strong point, Bill. We need to see people as human beings (whether or not we like them, agree with them, find them pleasant, or don't, etc...). Your post reminds me of one of the most important things researchers are taught. Participants in any study are first and foremost humans. They need to be treated as individuals, and their privacy and dignity must be preserved. Each participant in a study needs to be informed of what's going to happen in the study, and has the option to withdraw at any time. Participants in a study are to be treated with dignity and humanity. That's more important than any result one might find.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. What a perfect example of the importance of respecting people as individuals. While the goal is to learn from the groups in the study unless the participants are treated as individuals the results are bound to skewed.

  2. Oh, yes, agree. I may not have been brought up in a religious household, but my parents taught us the most important moral code: to respect and value human beings from all countries, cultures, abilities, ages, etc. My moral code is firmly entrenched.

    And it was the Nazis who had not ethics or morality or respect for human life, as we sadly know.

    I remember seeing a TV segment about a woman who lacked some partial limbs because her mother had taken thalidimide while pregnant, not knowing its horrible effects. That woman's father had married a German woman who said when she met the daughter that Hitler would have had her killed. I have never forgotten that.

    And the disabled woman functioned, had children, took care of them and was quite articulate. She had a worthwhilife life.

    People with disabilities have a right to live aw well as possible, no matter their age. And better in the U.S., if the government provided more necessary services and assistance. No disabled person should be homeless or hungry or ignored, left to fend for htemselves.

    I saw Louise Penny on TV the other day with Hillary Clinton, with whom she wrote a thriller. She is actually a riot.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Your example of a thalidomide affected woman was so apt. Her life has value. All lives have value.

  3. Yes. All lives have value. Some need more help than others and because they are human, they have a right to it.

    I learned from a well-known disabled activist who went to UC/Berkeley years ago. He had gotten polio at 14, right before the vaccine was available.
    But he went to that university and was a pioneer for disabled rights. He won the right to attend the school and have an iron lung on campus which he slept Yet he organized for disability access and rights.
    There are photos online of him in the iron lung talking to others, seated around him.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. You provide a fine example of a difficult life that was productive and meaningful. He is an inspiration not a burden.