Review: The Last Mapmaker

The Last Mapmaker, Christina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2022.

Summary: Sai, a girl from the Fens, daughter of a conman, manages to find a place with the last mapmaker of Mangkon just as he is enlisted on a voyage of discovery with great possible rewards, risks, and Slakes!

Sai was a twelve year old growing up in the Fens, a slumlike area of Mangkon. Her father, Mud, is a no-account conman in and out of prison. She longs for better things than working in a market. Yet she has no hope of receiving lineals on her thirteenth birthday, the mark of status. One day, she happens by the shop of Paiyoon, the foremost and last mapmaker in the land, just as he is lamenting his need of an assistant. She volunteers and he accepts and she does whatever he says, coming in earlier than he does.

Sai is talented at copying and her father wants her to forge an official letter. She is caught copying one of Paiyoon’s letters and he marvels at her skill. He discovers she can do this with maps as well. Soon after, Paiyoon learns he will be the mapmaker and navigator on an expedition ordered by the Queen to discover the Sunderlands, a continent that exists in myths, surrounded by the stormy and perilous Harbinger Sea, and guarded by the mythical Slake, a kind of sea dragon. He invites Sai along, and she jumps at the chance, giving up her hard-earned savings to be free of Mud.

But the rewards for the crew that discover the continent are good, along with lineals. And Sai gets to work with Paiyoon, further learning his craft, critical because his hands have begun to shake. The ship, the Prosperity, is the flagship of the Navy, captained by an illustrious war hero, Anchalee Sangra. There are two problems on board. One is Grebe, a sailor who had followed her one early morning in the Fens, until she eluded him. She fears she will be recognized, and her lowly origins in this status-conscious society betrayed. The other is Bo, a young orphan boy who had tried to pick her pocket on a port visit but was caught by her, but escaped arrest. He has stowed away and she discovers him and ends up trying to shield him. The two will ultimately team up. She also makes a friend with a striking young woman, Rian, popular among the sailors and ambitious to make the discover. She turns out to be half-sister to the captain.

It turns out the crew is divided, the Captain and Paiyoon and a few others on one side and Rian and most of the crew who want to take the risks to find the Sunderlands. The difference is not fear, as it turns out, but a recognition of the harms of Mangkon’s imperial ambitions. Sai and Bo will be caught up in this division, resulting in a conspiracy and a tumultuous finish. Sai and Paiyoon will be parted with Sai becoming mapmaker and navigator. Along the way are storms, shipwrecks, and the Slake!

This is a great adventure story that also raises thought-provoking questions about loyalties as well as the imperial ambitions of great nations. Is “discovery” really such a good thing for the “discovered”? It is written for an 8 to 12 year old audience, but this adult loved it. Christina Soontornvat first caught my attention when I had the chance to review her All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. That was non-fiction but introduced me to her story-telling capabilities. She published two Newbery Honor Books in 2021. Her characters are “real,” her plotting makes this a page-turner, and there is an evident “moral compass” in these works in the real choices characters make amid pressures of personal and imperial ambition. I loved it.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Land of Women

Land of Women, Maria Sánchez (Translated by Curtis Bauer). San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2022.

Summary: A rural field veterinarian in Spain gives voice to the lives of rural women and the places they inhabit.

Maria Sánchez is a field veterinarian who works in rural areas of Spain. Her father and grandfather were both veterinarians. She is the first women to be a veterinarian in her family. She recognizes the ways she has broken out of the patriarchal pattern, one followed by her mother and grandmother. One that has silenced the voices and muted the contributions of many women. This memoir seeks to give voice to their stories and their contributions, their hard work, the injustices done them, and their resilience.

The memoir begins with Maria going through the pictures of three grandparents that died, particularly her grandmother Theresa, once a sassy young woman. She realizes the women existed as ghosts, fulfilling the duties of sisters, wives, and mothers, often working hard around home and garden, the keepers of remedies whose stories are untold. Even in her own professions, all the pictures are of men with animals. Where are the women? They are under-represented in the statistics of agriculturalists. They are unheard, unseen. Only with the rise of feminism are they beginning to be celebrated.

Equally unknown is the rural environment where many of them have labored. The towns have been devalued by the greater cities, their stories untold. They become places to flee, even as the life of the land depends upon them. The stories of women and the rural towns are intertwined. For women, it is vital that it be understood that they are not “the daughter of, the sister of, the wife of” who “help.” They are persons with their own work. They help preserve a rural culture in danger of being lost.

Sánchez pays attention to words, collecting them like seeds. The names of the different trees, the plants gathered and stepped upon, the names of the animals, the birds. She believes we cannot love, and will not seek to preserve, what we do not know. To learn the stories, the words is to hear a people saying:

“We are alive and we are here.”

The second part of this work returns to three women in her genealogy, her great grandmother likened to the cork oak, her grandmother Carmen, likened to the garden, and her mother, the olive tree. She gives voice to their stories, the connections between them, connections that began before birth.

This is a beautiful book, weaving the stories of the women, rural lands, and the web of life they all inhabit. Sánchez remarks of how during her veterinary studies she would often be surrounded with works of literature while others would insist they were just into the science. This memoir reminds us that science just helps us understand and care well for what we love, for what has captured our imagination.

While she tells the story of rural women in Spain, one has the sense that this is a story that is transcultural. In so many of these countries, the stories have remained untold, the voices silenced, captured in the image of a woman who left a box of notebooks, all blank. In the mass migration to cities around the world, we are in danger of losing the stories of rural ways, the names of things. Maria Sánchez helps us hear them saying “we are alive and we are here.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty

Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty, Peter Sammons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022.

Summary: A carefully and biblically argued defense of the doctrine of reprobation, dealing with a number of misunderstandings of this doctrine.

Reformed theology takes the sovereignty of God as a starting place–God’s authority and power that accomplishes all things in accord with his will, for God’s pleasure. This includes election, the eternal, unconditional choice of all those who will be saved. Many struggle with this, even though most who affirm this also inform the importance of human choice. Far more difficult, and far less discussed in modern circles is the doctrine of reprobation. By this is meant, in the words of the author of this work “the eternal, unconditional decree of God for the non-elect. In this decree, he chooses to exclude the non-elect from his electing purposes of mercy and to hold them to the strict standards of justice to display the glory of his righteous wrath” (p. 47).

Stern stuff indeed. Because of this, it is not believed by many, or taught even by those who believe it. Peter Sammons believes and teaches reprobation as a integral part of Calvinism and mounts a defense of this doctrine in this volume. For Sammons, reprobation properly understood is not hyper-Calvinism but simply Calvinism.

Key to his argument is a careful study of Romans 9, which spans four chapters of this book. He sees it as explaining why not all believe, although humans know who is elect or reprobate, that reprobation is pretemporal and unconditional, it is not based on foreknowledge of actions, God hardens and shows mercy to whom God wishes, yet God’s decrees do not nullify human responsibility.

He goes on to define a number of key terms, parts of election, perhaps the most importance of which is ultimacy. Double ultimacy contends that God directly intervenes in the hearts of both the elect and the non-elect, a position Sammons associates with hyper-Calvinism and argues makes God the author of sin. He argues for single ultimacy, the direct work of God in the elect and the indirect work through secondary causes in the non-elect. He distinguishes predestination from fatalism and Islamic predestination and argues the impossibility of single predestination (election only) as inconsistent with the character of God. He addresses the arguments against reprobation of its unfairness and that it makes God the author of evil.

As noted earlier, Sammons argument for both the justice of God’s decrees of reprobation and the significance of human choices hinges on a careful discussion of causality–of God as primary and ultimate causality but of secondary proximate and efficient causes. As a particular case, he considers the causality of hardening. He concludes the work with a plea to teach this doctrine as one aspect of revealing the “grandeur of our great God.”

I found the logic of the theological argument more persuasive than the discussion of Romans 9. I am not convinced that you can base the election or reprobation of individuals on the basis of Jacob and Esau and God’s choice of the progenitor of the chosen people in a physical sense. The destiny of people groups, Israel and the Gentiles are the concern of Romans 9-11. That said, I will not be the one who will say what God can and cannot do. Nor do I feel the need to be God’s press agent, putting God’s best foot forward, as it were.

I have seen this doctrine caricatured and treated dismissively. It has been poorly articulated. If you care about such things, Sammons offers a careful, detailed argument that deals with objections and other views. This is a substantive work and not a caricature and those who would deny reprobation need to respond to works like this, or those of the great Reformers.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: From Plato to Christ

From Plato to Christ, Louis Markos. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A discussion of the most significant ideas of Plato, summarizing his works and the influence Platonic thought has had on Christian theology.

One of the things readily apparent to anyone who reads the theology of the church fathers is their indebtedness to the Greek philosophers, and particularly Platonic philosophy. Eusebius even believed that Plato’s work was a preparation for the gospel.

In this work, Louis Markos does two things. One is that he offers an introduction to Plato for those unfamiliar with him (and a good refresher for those of us who are). The first part reviews his major works and the key ideas that early Christian thinkers believed anticipated the coming of Christ. Of particular interest is the Cave and the rising path from the shadows of the forms to the forms in all their perfection, the sum of goodness, truth, and beauty. All this serves as a basis of our moral awareness and striving, and may become the basis of our awareness of our need for grace. He understood that we are both physical and spiritual beings. In The Laws Plato comes near a Christian understanding of a God intimately involved in his creation and a cosmology with which Christians deeply resonated. Markos notes where Christians part ways in the Platonic idea of the transmigration of souls, the relative denigration of the body, and the inferiority of women (although I suspect this also had an influence on Christian theology that Markos doesn’t discuss).

The second half of the book treats the Christian thinkers who draw upon his ideas beginning with Origen, the three Gregorys, Augustine, Boethius, and Dante, and more recently, Erasmus, Descartes, Coleridge, and finally C. S. Lewis, whose Professor Digory remarks in The Last Battle as they go “further up and further in” that “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato.”

The work also includes a bibliographic essay, not only of works drawn upon but comments on works and editions the reader may consult who wants to explore the connections of Greek thought and Christianity further. One of the most attractive things about this work is that Markos makes such a prospect inviting.

Aside from acknowledging some of the clear places Plato got it wrong, and some of the erroneous conclusions Origen reached, the book takes a very positive view of how Plato may prepare one for Christ. This may well be the case but I wish Markos would have dealt more with those who question the influence of Greek thought on Christian theology. While this engagement no doubt contributed to the spread of the gospel, the views of the body, the view of women, the “gnostic,” anti-material character of Christianity that led to a divorce of work and worship, of physicality and spirituality, are downplayed if acknowledged.

This needn’t detract from Markos’ argument. Plato undeniably influenced Christian thinkers through history, and if for no other reason (and there are other good reasons) ought to be read. At the same time, syncretism is not just a phenomena of modern missions. Christians have always faced the challenge of how to contextualize without compromising. They have always believed God has both left a witness to God’s self, and yet this is never unalloyed. I wish Markos would have done more with this which would have enhanced the instructiveness of a fine work.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Captain Daniel B. Stambaugh

Captain Daniel B. Stambaugh

A question arose from my article last week on Henry H. Stambaugh, who donated the money that built Stambaugh Auditorium. Was Henry the “Stambaugh” in Stambaugh-Thompson’s, the Youngstown-based hardware chain of stores? As it turns out, he was not. Rather, it was his uncle, Captain Daniel Beaver Stambaugh. Daniel was the younger brother of John Stambaugh, Henry’s father.

Daniel was born April 6, 1838 to John and Sarah Beaver Stambaugh (hence that middle name!). He grew up on the Brier Hill farm of his family and became involved in the coal and iron interests of his father, brother John, and nephew Henry. He eventually had investments in iron mines in Idaho and Colorado.

In 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to volunteer for the Union effort in the Civil War. Stambaugh signed up in Company B, 19th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He served four months and reenlisted in June 1862 as a second lieutenant of Company A, 105th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Chickamauga, where he was seriously wounded, hospitalized forty days before rejoining his command in the battles for Atlanta and the “March to the Sea.” He rose from second to first lieutenant and then was appointed Captain in August 1863. He was honorably discharged June 5, 1865.

He married Margaret Osborne on November 15, 1867 and had three children, one of whom, Phillip, predeceased him. It was around this time that he entered the hardware business, eventually forming a company, Fowler & Stambaugh. John Thompson had joined the firm as a bookkeeper around 1880. When Fowler died, Thompson became general manager while Daniel Stambaugh served as president, and the company became Stambaugh-Thompson. Thompson’s son Philip started out as a clerk, and by 1906 took his father’s place as general manager, succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Daniel Stambaugh.

Daniel Thompson was in good health until he suffered a fall while walking on West Federal Street a little over a week before his death at age 76. He had broken no bones but was advised to rest up from the shock to his body. The day before he died, he spoke to callers, expecting to be out again in a day or too. Thursday morning, he went into cardiac arrest from which he was not able to be resuscitated, dying at 9:45 am on January 14, 1915. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

The Vindicator concluded his obituary noting that he “was a brave soldier, a courteous gentleman, and possessed those personal attractive traits which made him a congenial companion and a staunch and true friend. His sudden death brings deep sorrow to the community.”

Indirectly, there was a tie between Stambaugh-Thompson’s and Stambaugh Auditorium, beside the name. Henry Stambaugh was on the board of directors of Stambaugh-Thompson’s and held stock in the company. And after Henry’s death, Philip Thompson was one of the trustees of the bequest that built Stambaugh Auditorium.

What shouldn’t be lost is that Daniel B. Stambaugh, along with the Thompson’s built Youngstown’s leading hardware store as well as maintaining connections to the coal and iron business. He was one of the builders of Youngstown, establishing a business that lasted over one hundred years.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Summer 2022 Christian Book Review: Part Two

Here’s the second half of the stack of books I’ve received from Christian publishers this spring. Three of the books are on themes of abundance and flourishing as well as a couple in IVP’s Studies in Theology and the Arts. It seems to me some very good books have come out of the pandemic!

Reading Black Books, Claude Atcho. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022. Explores ten black writers whose works both enrich our faith and call us into a deeper engagement in pursuing justice.

Road to Flourishing, Al Lopus with Cory Hartman. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. The CEO of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute studied hundreds of workplaces and identifies the eight key drivers of flourishing workplaces.

Grief: A Philosophical Guide, Michael Cholbi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A philosophical exploration of this event exploring what grief is, whom we grieve, and how we emerge with a deeper self-understanding and insight into the human condition.

Participating in Abundant Life, Mark R. Teasdale. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A holistic approach to salvation focused on both its this- and other-worldly aspects, both the material and spiritual aspects and both the personal and social aspects.

Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing, Vern Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2022. A theological study of the accounts of God’s “appearing” throughout the Bible, what this reveals about who God is, and how God is present to us today.

Resisting the Marriage Plot (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Dalene Joy Fisher. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Using the works of Austen, Bronte, Gaskell, and Wollstonecraft, argues that the Christian faith of their heroines challenged cultural expectations of women, especially in regard to marriage.

Like Birds in a Cage, David M. Crump. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. An extended argument for how Christian Zionism contributes to the oppression and virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian people in Israel.

Agents of Flourishing, Amy L. Sherman. Downers Grove: IVP Praxis, 2022. “Amy Sherman offers a multifaceted, biblically grounded framework for enacting God’s call to seek the shalom of our communities in six arenas of civilizational life (The Good, The True, The Beautiful, The Just, The Prosperous, and The Sustainable)” [from website copy].

Christian Parenting, David P. Setran. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2022. A historical study of how American Protestants approached childrearing with applications to contemporary parenting challenges.

The Art of New Creation (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor. Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2022. Reflections from artists and theologians on the role of art in exploring the connection between creation and the new creation.

Calling in Context, Susan L. Maros. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Considers how various aspects of our social location, including race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, and gender, shape our understanding of vocation.

The Herods: Murder, Politics, and the Art of Succession, Bruce Chilton. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A historical study of how the Herodians survived a century of Roman domination and turmoil through loyalty to both Roman might and Israelite theocracy.

I hope this two day overview has offered you some ideas of books you might tuck into while you sip some lemonade. Just picking them up, leafing through them and reading summaries about them heighten my own anticipation of reading and reviewing these. I hope one or more might be a source of spiritual encouragement for you!

Summer 2022 Christian Book Preview: Part One

I haven’t done a book preview since last fall. I have a number of books on the review stack from various Christian publishers that I will be reviewing in the next months but would love for you to have the chance to know about them now. You might want to get some of these on your summer reading list! I’m just going to down the stack and give you a quick preview. Today I will do the top half of the stack with the remainder to follow tomorrow.

St Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013. I requested this for review this summer to go with a program in the ministry I work with focused on the life of St. Francis–and it is by G. K. Chesterton!

Four Views on Heaven, Contributors: John S. Feinberg, J. Richard Middleton, Michael Allen, Peter Kreeft. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2022. There is actually quite a lively conversation going on about the nature of heaven, and the nature of our future hope. This is a great lineup of interlocutors representing traditional Protestant and Catholic perspectives and newer “new earth” and “heaven on earth” perspectives.

The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2009. Earlier this spring, I reviewed an edition of this work from the same publisher now out of print. They saw this and sent me a newer edition with the full text and a modern translation by Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.

Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), T. Desmond Alexander. Downers Grove: 2022. A study of the Hebrews looking at the question of how sinful humans can approach a holy God.

The Qur’an and the Christian, Matthew Aaron Bennett. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022. The author believes understanding Islam’s sacred text and how to converse with Muslim friends are important for Christians seeking to relate the Christian gospel with those friends.

With or Without Me, Esther Maria Magnis. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2022. Esther Maria Magnis describes a tortuous road to faith, wrestling with the reality of human suffering and critiquing the clichés religious people use, daring to believe in God when it is anything but easy.

Fight Like Jesus, Jason Porterfield. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2022. Looks at Holy Week as Jesus’s way of peacemaking, in sharp contrast to the religious authorities.

God Dwells Among Us (Evangelical Studies in Biblical Theology), G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the temple in scripture and what it means for the ongoing mission of the church.

The Psychological Roots of Christian Nationalism, Pamela Cooper-White. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022. Explores the extent of Christian nationalism, its psychological roots, and how we talk across our divides.

Inalienable, Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. A discussion of the crossroads confronting an American church as its witness has been sullied and its numbers are declining and our choice between idolatry and God’s global and transcultural kingdom of God.

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology), Randy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022. A critique of the Western theological worldview from an Indigenous perspective emphasizing place, community, and our lived experience in this world.

The Anxiety Field Guide, Jason Cusick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Based on the author’s own history of anxiety, offers healthy practices addressing our anxiety crisis.

That’s twelve of the titles in the stack. Tomorrow I’ll be back with twelve more ranging from grief to flourishing and from the Herods to parenting.

Review: To Open The Sky

To Open The Sky, Robert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (first published in 1967).

Summary: Noel Vorst’s new religion sweeps the Earth with its promise of eternal life, but Vorst’s plans extend far beyond Earth or even the near planets to the stars.

By 2077, the Earth has colonized Mars and Venus, terraforming Mars and adapting humans to live in the Venusian atmosphere. A UN functionary, Reynolds Kirby struggles with the high tension this high tech life creates, little relieved by temporary plunges into nothingness, or other pleasures. A new religion is on the rise, replacing those that no longer speak to the world Kirby lives in. They are called the Vorsters after Noel Vorst their founder. Their chapels are springing up in many cities, the central focus of which is the small cobalt reactor giving off a bluish light. Services follow a liturgy that is a pastiche of scientific mysticism with the promise of eternal life for followers. Kirby is drawn in, and over the years rises to become Vorst’s right hand man.

Meanwhile, another movement breaks off from the Vorsters, led by David Lazarus, until he was supposedly martyred. They are the Harmonist and they’ve succeeded where the Vorsters failed in establishing their mission to Venus. Vorsters who try either die from the vicious creatures on the planet or the inhabitants who want nothing to do with them, or they become Harmonists.

The Vorsters have advanced in extending life and the breeding of ever more effective ESPers at their Santa Fe center. The most visible sign is Vorst himself, who is still alive 100 years later. On Venus, the Harmonists have advanced in telekinesis with the development of “pushers” able to move things and people further and further. All the Vorsters efforts to train the ESPers to do this fail, often at the cost of their lives.

Then Lazarus is found in a nutrient bath encased and buried on Mars. The Vorsters bring him to life, only to turn him over to the Harmonists. It turns out that all of this is part of a grand plan of Vorst that extends far beyond Earth, Mars, or Venus, to “open the sky,” as it were, to the universe.

The question around this book is that of “at what cost” Is the cost warranted of the young lives wrecked, ESPers driven into insanity and a merciful death, “pushers” who are destroyed, all of these young and devout? Is this “religion” just the cloak for the ambitions of one man, as much as others seem to be helped?

In some ways, this book feels more timely today than in 1967, as we see many religious figures who have used religion to gain and abuse their power, and often their followers. In the human longing for something more, there is a great vulnerability, that may be twisted by the power, either tempting others who are needed to join in the quest for power, or to be used up and discarded by the powerful. In this, Silverberg may have been prescient.

The Reviews: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series

I recently finished Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, the seventeenth in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the most recently published. For the moment, there are no more Gamache novels to read, unless I go back and re-read the series. This has quite simply been one of the best series I’ve read. While Penny’s books are often favored by women readers, I’ve found myself drawn by the strong male characters, especially Armand and Jean Guy. Particularly, I want to grow up to be like Armand! Equally, I find myself deeply appreciating the strong and diverse female characters–Reine Marie, Clara, Myrna, Isabelle Lacoste, and of course, Ruth (and Rosa!). Like so many readers, I want to live in Three Pines, or foster the kind of Three Pines community where I live (perhaps one of Penny’s hopes). I also have been provoked to thought, and not a little self-examination, by Penny’s insight that a murder often begins many years before with a nursed grievance allowed to fester. Finally, there are Gamache’s four sentences that lead to wisdom:

I don’t know.

I need help.

I’m sorry.

I was wrong.

The older I get, the more I find myself saying these things and I find myself looking back at my younger self and wish I’d learned this wisdom sooner.

I thought it would be fun to create a page with all my Gamache reviews. While I try to avoid spoilers in the reviews, those of subsequent books may give away plot details you’d rather discover for yourself if you haven’t read the previous ones. But if you are like me and want to go back and remember, this might prove helpful. I’ve just included publication info, a brief summary, and a link to the full review.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2005.

Summary: The suspicious death of Jane Neal a day after her painting is accepted into an art show brings Gamache and his team to Three Pines, and to the grim conclusion that someone in this small community is a murderer. Review

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2006.

Summary: An unliked but aspiring author comes to Three Pines and is murdered in front of a crowd at a curling match yet no one sees how it happened. Review

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007.

Summary: Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case. Review

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Summary: The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history. Review

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache #5), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009.

Summary: The body of an unknown man is found in the bistro of Gabri and Olivier, and Olivier is the chief suspect! Review

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache #6), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010.

Summary: Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave after an attempt to rescue an agent goes terribly wrong. As each faces their own traumas they get caught up in murder investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines. Review

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache #7), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2012.

Summary: The vernissage for Clara’s art show is a stunning success with glowing reviews only to be spoiled when the body of her estranged childhood friend is found in her flowerbed. Review

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.

Summary: While solving a case involving the murder of a prior in a remote monastery, Gamache must confront his arch-nemesis Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur. Review

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013.

Summary: The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head. Review

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache #10), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2015.

Summary: Gamache’s peaceful retirement is interrupted when Peter Morrow fails to return as agreed a year after his separation from Clara and they embark on a search taking them to a desolate corner of Quebec. Review

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache #11), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016.

Summary: A young boy from Three Pines, prone to fantastic tales, reports seeing a big gun with a strange symbol, and then is found dead, setting off a search for a murderer, and an effort to thwart a global threat. Review, Second Review

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache #12), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016.

Summary: Gamache returns to the Sûreté as Commander of its Academy, and finds himself at the center of a murder investigation of one of its corrupt professors. Review

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache #13), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2017.

Summary: A mysterious figure robed in black, the murder of a woman found in those robes, a confession, and a trial, during which Gamache has made choices of conscience that could cost lives and save many. Review

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache #14), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2018.

Summary: Gamache, Myrna, and Benedict, a young building maintenance worker who hopes to be a builder are named as liquidators of the estate of a cleaning woman while Amelia Choquet, caught with drugs, is expelled from the Academy to the streets as a powerful and lethal drug is about to hit. Review

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Gamache #15), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2019.

Summary: Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste are together again, searching for a missing girl amid rising floods and a flood of social media attacks against Gamache and the art of Clara Morrow. Review

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache #16), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020.

Summary: A family visit of the Gamaches to children in Paris suddenly becomes an investigation into the attempted murder of Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather, and the murder of a close associate, and will put the Gamaches in great peril. Review

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Gamache #17), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2021.

Summary: A Christmas assignment to provide security for a professor proposing mercy killing leads to a murder investigation in Three Pines. Review

The most recent novel in this series envisions what it is like to emerge from the pandemic. One thing I would say is that this series has been one of the things that got me through the pandemic. My review of the first volume was posted on April 2, 2020, less than a month after the world locked down. The most recent posted June 13, 2022, a bit over two years later. Pandemic has morphed into endemic and the new normal is a scarier world of war in Ukraine, inflation, gun violence, and political discord stretching from Sri Lanka to the United States. Amid all the murders (both in the real world and the books), the Gamache series reminds me of the goodness that remains, a goodness worth fighting and resisting for as well as celebrating in our daily lives. And there is one more goodness, at least…Louise Penny is still writing and book 18, A World of Curiosities, is expected in late 2022. When I get the chance to read it, and any subsequent numbers, it and they will be added to the list!

Review: The Madness of Crowds

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Gamache #17), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2021.

Summary: A Christmas assignment to provide security for a professor proposing mercy killing leads to a murder investigation in Three Pines.

It began with a request to provide security for a speech at a nearby university at an old gym over the Christmas holidays.. It seems like something far beneath the pay grade of Gamache until he investigates the speaker. Abigail Robinson is a polished academic, comfortable with statistics who speaks with calm conviction. She had submitted a report to the Canadian government about pandemic deaths that concluded with a startling proposal. The havoc wrought on the economy meant that the government couldn’t continue to support the elderly and others with disabilities. The answer was mercy killing. And she assures her audiences with this familiar tag line, “All will be well” or in Quebec, “ça va bien aller.” Her message cuts like a sword, attracting a growing social media following of those who embrace her ideas and a contingent of those outraged that such a thing might even be considered.

Gamache recognizes the danger such an event represents. He knows he cannot legally stop her but pleads that the university cancel the event. Citing free speech, they refuse. A huge and volatile crowd of all ages arrives and despite security, an attempt is made on her life. Only Gamache’s reaction saves her…and he wonders if he should have.

The professor’s ideas reach deeply into Gamache’s circle. His granddaughter Idola, Jean Guy’s daughter, is a Downs Syndrome child. She would be a candidate for mercy killing. Both Gamache and Beauvoir struggle not only with the inherent moral issue Professor Robinson’s ideas raise, but the reality that they could not let this happen to Idola, even as they also understand the reality of the challenges of care for a special needs child.

Meanwhile, a Nobel prize nominee, Haniya Daoud, is visiting Three Pines, the guest of Myrna, who was one of the first to support her human rights organization in Canada. She relentlessly works to free children and women in bondage in South Sudan. She’s fierce, having killed her own drunken captor to escape, and killing others to free captive children. Her face bears the physical scars of her captivity. There are other scars that go deeper, including a hatred for law enforcement. Having heard about Abigail Robinson, whose ideas are against all she stands for, she calls Gamache a coward for protecting her.

While Gamache’s team investigates the murder attempt, which involved more than the person apprehended, Professor Robinson and her assistant Debbie Schneider are given protection but asked not to leave Chancellor Collette Roberge’s home. Roberge had been a mentor to Abigail Robinson after her father’s death and was responsible for the invitation to speak. On New Year’s Eve, Roberge was invited to a gathering at the Hadley House, now the Auberge, and she brings Abigail and Debbie along. Vincent Gilbert, “the Asshole Saint” we’ve encountered in earlier volumes is there. There is an uncomfortable encounter when Gilbert challenges the morality of what Robinson is proposing and she brings up the name of Ewan Cameron, whose unethical psychological experiments were used by the CIA in interrogations, that left a trail of human wreckage that will become important to the plot. We learn later that Gilbert was a lowly lab assistant caring for animals who knew what was happening and did nothing, a secret he’d protected for years, now exposed.

The New Year’s celebration occurs. Kids light sparklers, there is a huge fireworks display, couples kiss, teens go off in the woods to drink. Just before midnight, Debbie and Collette step outside. Minutes later, as Billy Williams is extinguishing the bonfire, kids race out of the woods, reporting a body laying in the snow. Gamache fears it is Robinson, but when the crime scene investigators arrive, it is discovered to be Debbie Schneider, dead from blunt force trauma from a piece of firewood. They face two questions. Did the killer mistake her for Abigail or was she the target? And who is the killer? Vincent Gilbert? Collette Roberge? Abigail Robinson herself? The son of the man arrested for the gym incident, who was working the party? Or maybe Haniya Daoud, who has killed before?

Penney raises important questions. How has the pandemic changed us? Has the cavalier disregard for elder lives in care settings on the part of some, opened the door to consider measures like mercy killing that were once off the table? Are the elderly and those with disabilities a “drag” on the economy and a burden to society we cannot afford? On what basis will we defend their right to life? And what price are we willing to pay for our safety? Ewan Cameron was not a fictional character. Unsuspecting patients, often women suffering post-partum depression, were victims of his CIA research which used curare, LSD, electroconvulsive shock, and sensory deprivation. The CIA continues to use the fruits of his research in interrogations.

Gamache has to wrestle with these issues as he prepares his own report on the horrors he witnessed in care facilities during the pandemic. And Beauvoir will confront these in a very different way in the climactic scene of the novel. I also find myself wondering if we’ve seen the last of Haniya Daoud. Louise Penny is still writing!