Tuesday, June 24, 2014

REVIEW: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, #6)Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Original Publication Year: 2009
Genre(s): Mystery, Historical
Series: Maisie Dobbs #6
Format: Audio (CD)
Narrated By: Orlagh Cassidy

This is one of my go to historical mystery series.  The stories all take place in post-World War I Britain.  Maisie is an independent woman, part psychologist, part detective who because of her cleverness has been able to rise above her working class roots.  Her methods of investigation and her status as an independent business woman in the 1920’s and 1930’s make the books in this series unique. All of the stories up to this point have had some link to the war.


The sixth installment takes place in 1932 and for the first time we get to see Maisie working as part of a team. A letter to high officials in the government, threatens violence and mentions Maisie, leading to her being called in by the Special Branch of the police where she joins a team that includes DI Stratton who we’ve met before and Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane. As the letter writer escalates his chemical attacks in London the team races against the clock to figure out who it is and stop him.

It’s a good story and one of the better ones of the series thus far. It revolves around, as do the other books, the repercussions of World War I which cripple England even 14 years down the road. This installment focuses on those souls that were disabled mentally by the war and most of Maisie’s work is to build a profile (or template as she calls it) of the perpetrator. There is an examination of the state of mental health institutions of the day and the book asserts that there were at least over 200,000 men suffering from what we would now call PTSD. And of course it is not just the men that are affected. Maisie’s friend Priscilla is also struggling, frightened into paralysis about what the future might hold for her adolescent sons. Maisie and Priscilla work through this but with our knowledge of the future we know that Priscilla has good reason to fear what her sons might face – it’s an interesting juxtaposition.

There were a few things that did interfere with my full enjoyment of the book. Maisie is a character I have always liked despite the fact that she leans towards being a Mary Sue. Her unrealistic excellence is usually not overly blatant and it is balanced with her failures in her personal life. This book goes quite a bit overboard in the Maisie Dobbs can do no wrong and everybody loves and respects her arena. She is portrayed as the foremost expert of everything ever. For example, this is particularly blatant in a scene towards the end of the book when MacFarlane and Stratton rush down to Maisie’s dad house in the country. Mind you MacFarlane is chief of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard - on speaking terms with the Prime Minister – a very important busy guy who also presumably knows stuff about investigating crimes. Regardless, he makes time to rush to Maisie Dobbs to tell her that the dead perpetrator does not appear to be who they thought it was though they are certain it is their man. These two experienced detectives apparently need Maisie to tell them that if they’re sure the dead man is the one that wrote the letters and did the crimes it probably doesn’t matter who he is and that they may never know. She then goes on to explain that in the future they may have to deal with other men who have a mental breakdown as a result of the war. MacFarlane and Stratton are wide-eyed and completely taken aback by both these revelations which seem like …um… common sense? Now I get that psychology in the 1930’s was not as well developed or widely understood but do these two men, likely veterans of said war and professional crime investigators, really need this explained to them by Maisie Dobbs? Seems a bit of a stretch. There is a good bit of this type of thing in the book which becomes a little irritating. Maisie is more interesting to me when she shows her flaws while still kicking ass.

I’ve listened to the audio of a number of the books in the series and they’ve all been narrated by Orlagh Cassidy who does a good job portraying the precise, formal Maisie with perfect diction and a very deliberate reading. It fits the book well.

Final verdict: One of the more interesting and engaging mysteries in the series which remains enjoyable even when Maisie is a little insufferable.

Do you have any historical mystery series you particularly enjoy?

No comments:

Post a Comment