I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Louise Penny’s new book, The Madness of Crowds, the 17th in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The time is post-Covid pandemic which, of course, is not reality in Canada or here. However, for purposes of this mystery, the pandemic is over, and the businesses in the village of Three Pines are re-opening. Everyone is happy and relieved to just be doing ordinary things. However, different kinds of dark days are approaching.

Chief Inspector Gamache who is head of the Homicide Division of the Surete du Quebec, has received an unusual request to provide security for a speaking event at a nearby college. He agrees because the request has been made by an old friend, but the speaker turns out to be a woman who is preaching a message with which Gamache vehemently disagrees. I will let you discover what she is advocating. The woman is a statistician whose research has led her down a path which she believes the numbers support, but Gamache and others find her conclusion morally reprehensible. Someone seems determined to stop her, however, and therein lies the mystery. There are those who think she should be stopped, but who is so determined that the woman’s life is in danger.

One of the things that Penny does so well is to show the various dimensions of her characters. Gamache, who is so skilled at what he does, occasionally missteps or draws the wrong conclusion. His second in command and also his son-in-law can behave rashly and occasionally fail to follow orders. Ruth, the cantankerous old woman with a foul-mouthed duck, reveals occasionally a softer side. There are couple of warnings that come through Penny’s characters. One is that sometimes an awful, perhaps even hateful, message comes through an attractive soft-spoken woman who sounds very reasonable. The other is that people in stories and in life too often fail to take action against an evil force, sometimes until it is too late to stop it.

Three Pines is, of course, a fictional place although I think people have tried to find it. It is a place that I would like to visit, and I can through these books by Penny. Her descriptions of a clear, brisk night will make you want to take a walk around Three Pines with only the moon for illumination. It is a haven for Chief Inspector Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie as well as the rest of his family.

The only downside of finishing her books is that I usually have to wait at least a year before the next book, but this year, her next book, State of Terror, written with her friend, Hillary Clinton, is due out in October. I am looking forward to that.

The Madness of Crowds is published in hardcover by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and retails for $28.99.