There have been mixed reviews of Louise Penny’s latest novel, “The madness of the crowds(Macmillan Audio, 12 CDs, $ 39.99), the specific complaint being his decision to place the action in post-pandemic Canada.
Since the pandemic remains a concern for most of us, I found his choice inspired. But it seems many of his longtime devoted fans rely on his books as an escape from reality.
A weak argument, because Penny has often addressed reality in his popular series “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache”. The opioid crisis, for example, has been a central theme in at least three of his Gamache books.
That said, the pandemic really only serves to establish the premise of “Crowd Insanity,” which uses the severe economic fallout from the pandemic to fuel a Canadian professor’s theory that the solution to the world’s financial problems is. euthanasia – that is, âwith compassionâ eliminating people with a poor quality of life (the elderly, chronically ill and severely disabled) in order to remove the financial burden of their care on society.
The Gamache family – Armand, his wife and their two children and their families – were celebrating the holidays in their small village, Three Pines, when Gamache, now head of the Homicide Division of the SÃ»retÃ© du QuÃ©bec, was tasked with ensuring the security of a visiting professor at a nearby university. It is only when he learns who the teacher is that he becomes concerned. Professor Abigail Robinson’s controversial (and, for Gamache, repulsive) message has incited audiences to violence elsewhere, and he is urging the university to cancel the performance. His pleas fall on deaf ears and he is criticized for being an intellectual coward.
Unsurprisingly, an attempt is made on Robinson’s life during his speech. During their investigation, Armand and his assistant (and son-in-law) Jean-Guy are subsequently faced with murder, broader support than they had expected for Robinson’s agenda, and long-buried enmities.
The excellent Robert Bathurst is the reader, translating perfectly (as usual) the gentle and thoughtful nature of Gamache, while also giving distinct voices to all of the other characters. Oh, and Three Pines cranky poet Ruth has a major role in the story.
A mystery of a completely different order is that of BA Paris “The therapist(Macmillan Audio, 8 CDs, $ 39.99).
Alice and Leo have decided to move in together and Leo finds the perfect home in an idyllic gated community outside of London. It’s only when they’ve settled in and after Alice and Leo have a party over drinks that they learn that their new home was the scene of the previous occupant’s murder.
Alice learns this from an alleged neighbor she met at her party, but when he returns a few days later to ask her a few questions, he identifies himself as a private investigator hired by the sister of the victim’s husband who was presumed the killer and subsequently took his own life.
Already deeply troubled, Alice is even more troubled to learn that Leo knew about the murder and deliberately kept it from her. While deciding what to do, Alice tells Leo not to come back while she is home. But she finds out that she can’t sleep, so she sleeps with a neighbor.
Alice’s sense of connection with the deceased woman, a therapist named Nina, convinced her that this is the case because that was the name of Alice’s late sister. Knowing that the therapist’s husband’s sister is so certain that her brother was unable to murder his beloved wife that she pays an investigator, Alice becomes obsessed with the idea of ââwho really killed Nina.
The neighbors are not helpful, but she feels they are hiding something. His certainty that the real murderer is still on the run is further reinforced by an elderly resident who tells him to “trust no one”.
And she doesn’t. Not even Leo. Why would he be so determined to live in this house and deliberately hide the murder from her?
Paris has written a series of biting and breathtaking psychological thrillers (most recently “The dilemma” and “Behind closed doors“). And while there are tracks from “The Therapist” that put gullibility to the test, you’ll find yourself listening to Olivia Dowd and Thomas Judd’s suspenseful read long after bedtime.
Fran Wood, retired Star-Ledger columnist and book editor, blogs at jerseysbest.com.