Sunday, July 19, 2009

Among the Mad

This sixth historical mystery in the Maisie Dobbs series continues to explore the harrowing effects of the first World War on the people of England. The novel opens with Maisie and her assistant Billy walking down the street on Christmas Eve. As usual, there are beggars on the street, many of them wounded (physically and often mentally as well) war veterans. One of them catches Maisie's eye, as he is the embodiment of hopelessness and dark despair. Always ready to give a coin or two, Maisie approaches him. But when she sees him reach into his coat, she realizes something dangerous is about to happen. She expects a gun, not the bomb - but there's no time to do anything. She is caught up in the blast, literally blown off her feet.

Later, a letter arrives at the prime minister's office threatening more violence - possibly through the use of toxic gas - unless the government passes laws to help the wounded veterans who are clearly not being taken care of as they should be. The letter mentions Maisie by name, and soon she is called in to work on the investigation with Scotland Yard. But trying to find one mentally disturbed, clearly brilliant man in the morass of wounded, mentally scarred veterans in England before he can strike seems a hopeless task. Maisie will need all her special training and insight - not to mention the contacts she made working as a nurse during the war - to discover the culprit in time. Sporadic glimpses of the killer's journal serve to heighten the tension as well as reveal a highly intelligent, deeply disturbed mind.

This is one of my favorite mystery series for adults, right up there with Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series. They mysteries are intricate and intriguing, and the characters are multifaceted and, as events progress through the series, their impact on the characters is evident as they grow and change as a result. The novels all explore the effects of the war and its aftermath, and each mystery involves an aspect of those effects. In this one, the treatment of war veterans, particularly those with mental issues, is at the forefront, and it made for one of the creepier, darker books in the series. Although the novels are set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the subject matter is powerfully relevant to current times. Having recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I felt the references to events in Germany that presaged World War II to be particularly disturbing, as it was clear that the country had yet to deal with the fallout from the first war, and a new one would be on them before knew it.

This is a series that has great appeal both those who love a good, character-driven mystery and those who enjoy historical novels. The books fall into that rare category of mystery that holds up to rereading, because the books are about so much more than the solving of a puzzle. In fact, I enjoyed the audio version of this and the last one so much, I may go back to the beginning and listen to the others some time soon. I look forward with impatience to the next book in the series.

Books in the Maisie Dobbs series:
1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
6. Among the Mad

Among the Mad (#6 in the Maisie Dobbs series) by Jacqueline Winspear; narrated by Orlagh Cassidy (BBC Audiobooks America, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
A Garden Carried in the Pocket: "Among the Mad is one of Winspear's best, a multi-layered look at an era."
Lesa's Book Critiques: "...one of the most thoughtful, timely mysteries you will read this year, even though the main action is set in one short week in December, 1931."
Library Queue: "This mystery actually creeped me out a little more than her others have, but I was riveted."
A Reader's Journal: "In my opinion, Among the Mad is the best one yet."
And here is a review at Mindy Withrow's blog of the first four books in the series, if you'd like to see how it all began.

12 comments:

  1. I do love Winspear's Maisie! This was probably my favorite so far. Also loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society!

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  2. I'm glad you liked it! I like the idea of listening to these on audio book. I'll bet I would enjoy that.

    Thanks for linking to me. I'll add yours to mine! :)

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  3. I love the Maisie Dobbs books, and the Mary Russell books, too. Thanks for this great reminder.

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  4. Jenclair - every time I read a new one, I think it's my favorite! If you like this series I bet you'd like King's Marry Russell books, if you haven't read them already.

    Tricia - The narrator is fabulous, and she does dialogue (and various accents) particularly well. Thanks for the link! :-)

    Jen - I could have sworn you reviewed this, but I was unable to find it on your blog. Am I imagining things? Anyway, I'm glad you enjoy these as much as I do!

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  5. I don't think I posted a formal review of that one. What I'll tend to do with adult books is just post some quick comments in another post (e.g. Books Read in July, or one of my Growing Bookworms newsletter posts). So I'm sure that I mentioned it, but there's nothing to really link to.

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  6. Jen - that makes perfect sense! I guess that's what I remember reading. :-)

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  7. I'll have to check out this series. It sounds right up my alley. Thanks!

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  8. Anna - you are in for a treat! The first book is actually more of a historical novel than a genre mystery, and it's more about Maisie and her past. My library originally classed it in fiction but when the others came out, it got moved to mystery. Anyway, I'll be curious to hear what you think!

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  9. I love this series, too! I haven't reviewed this one yet, but I did read it like last week or so. :) Now to wait for the next one...

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  10. Kailana - I'll be looking forward to reading your review. And oh, yes, I hate the wait! :-)

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  11. Darla, I'm a Maisie fan, too. Each book strikes me as better than the last--which is probably because we are learning more about Maisie's background and watching her go through some difficult transitions. I've read but not reviewed the latest, but I did do a series review of the first 4 books some time ago at http://mindywithrow.com/?p=308. Hope this series continues for a long while!

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  12. Hi, Minday - thanks for passing on that link - I've added it to the post. I agree - I hope this series doesn't end any time soon, that's for sure!

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