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.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Responding to Evil in The Madness of Crowds

In The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny, beyond the solving of a murder and delving into the reactions to a study advocating institutionalized killing of the unproductive members of society there is an uncomfortable exploration of how we act when faced with great evil.

Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is visiting Three Pines. Daoud was “sold into slavery when she was eleven” and cruelly treated. Armand thinks the scars upon her face symbolize a person imprisoned by their past. She has lost her own children but worked relentlessly to save and improve the lives of women and children around the world. At 23 she is worshipped. At the same time she has a disdain, for at least everyone in Three Pines, that she readily expresses.

In a beautifully written passage Reine-Marie drawing on a poem of Ruth captures the essence of Haniya:

Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?

Though they knew who’d hurt her. Not just her torturers. They all had, by their silence and inaction.

She calls Armand weak, even feeble, for failing to stop Robinson from speaking. Haniya accurately senses that Armand loathes Robinson. She skewers him saying he would speak and give money for causes but “won’t actually lift a finger to stop a tyrant”.

Within the book is a description of a real life Canadian psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, who played God and, in the interests of psychiatric research and CIA money, tortured people. No one stopped him.

Each character looks within their soul to see what they have done to save the victims of torture. 

And if you have joined in torture can you atone for your actions? If you are Catholic you need to confess and do penance. In the criminal justice system, if you are convicted you need to express remorse and do time. If you are neither religious nor found guilty in a court you face a lifetime psychological burden.

Is there a time limit on responding to torture?

The last prosecutions of Nazi concentration camp guards are taking place. The accused are men and women in their 90’s. The Holocaust took place over 75 years ago. None of the latest accused I have read about directly participated in the planning of the Holocaust or the killing. What should the consequences be for these elderly men and women? 

Not all responses to those who have committed wicked acts are predictable.

Rudolph Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, was tried in Poland after the war. Sister Gaudia, a Polish nun, in the online Catholic website, Aleteia, said he returned to the Catholic faith to which he had been born because he was not mistreated or tortured by his Polish guards:

“They treated him mercifully,” she said. “Mercy is the love we know that we do not deserve. He doesn’t deserve their forgiveness, their goodness, their gentleness. And he received all that.”

He confessed to a Jesuit priest and received the Eucharist before he was executed.

Few among us whether fictional characters or real life readers can say we have acted against evil beyond expressions of sympathy or condemnation and possibly a donation of money to a worthy cause.

Within the book are police officers who have put their lives at stake to stop violence and remove those at risk from further harm. Yet they are not to harm or kill those who have committed vile crimes. Over the past several hundred years Anglo - American justice has rejected the vigilante response to crime in favour of a justice system with trials to determine guilt and judges to hand out measured punishment.

But Abigail Robinson will never face a criminal trial. She has not committed a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. She advocates for laws that would kill those who burden society. She would pevert our system of justice to legalize killing.

Thousands, perhaps millions, support her. Many more reject her. Might she gain the support of governments facing fiscal crises? Should she be silenced by direct action to preserve humanity?

What would you do to oppose 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; Hardcover


  1. Those are all important questions and issues, Bill. It reminds me of the quote that's usually attributed to Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As you say, it's one thing to express disagreement, donate money, etc.. It's another to risk one's life. And it's worth looking inside oneself and asking, "What would I be willing to do?" Questions like that make a person think about a book long after it's over.

  2. ps. I've also read that that quote originated with John Stuart Mill. I'm not sure exactly who expressed the sentiment first, but I think it's worth considering.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think it is important to do "something" early when confronted with evil principles. It is important they are not ignored.

  4. Absolutely. People who espouse evil principles and carry out torture should be imprisoned to protect other people. If they speak but do not act, then they should not be given platforms on which to speak or write.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I have some difficulty with sending people to jail "who espouse evil principles". I am reluctant to censor thought. I have no problem with sanctions against advocacy of evil thoughts.

  5. Well, I think of Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis arrested opponents after the Reichstag Fire and then began their anti-jewish laws and eugenics laws, too. And I see what happened here on Jan. 6, and what wen ton beforehand is coming to light.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I revere the Rule of Law for it preserves democracy. It was at risk on Jan. 6. I believe a majority of Americans are determined to strengthen democracy.

  6. I think so, too. But there are big disputes in Congress right now on voting rights, a basic part of a democracy.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. It is hard to understand from the North the efforts to limit voter registrations and the voting process.