Number 6 in the Maisie Dobbs series is special indeed.
Picture the scene;
Central London. The year is 1931, and it is Christmas Eve. Private investigator Maisie Dobbs has just left her office. She encounters a man – clearly a shell-shocked veteran of the Great War – intent on suicide. Maisie served as a nurse in that war and the things she has seen, then and since, have made her deeply sypathetic to the coninued suffering of the men who fought . She tries to intervene, but she cannot stop him.
Another man sees the incident, and it sets him on a course of action.
He issues threats to the authorities. Threats that they take very seriously. And he writes: “If you doubt my sincerity, ask Maisie Dobbs.”
Maisie finds herself being interviewed by Scotland Yard, by Special Branch, and Military Intelligence. Once she makes them understand that she is not involved with what is going on and that she can bring valuable insight into the investigation, she is hired.
It is a dark and difficult investigation. Oswald Moseley and his blackshirts may be implicated. The man may have come from a lunatic asylum. There are political power-games. The storyline is dark and compelling.
But more important are the themes that are explored. Both in the current case and in the ongoing storylines of the series. The damage caused by the war, the political and social unrest that came after, the treatment of mental illness, and maybe most importantly of all, the question of just what our responsibilities to society are.
“She showed care. That is all I have asked for, these many years, that people are concerned, and that in their actions they demonstrate care. It occured to me that the woman did not wait for someone else to approach Ian. She did not ignore him. She walked towards him without looking in another direction. I noticed that. I have come to notice that people do not look at the Ians of this world, but instead turn their heads here and there.”
Yes, there is much, much more to this book than a mystery.
Jacqueline Winspear paints a wonderful picture of London between the wars and she balances all of the elements perfectly as the story unravels in clear and lucid prose.
My only slight concern is that Maisie is maybe a little too perfect. In her professional dealings, her dealings with friends and colleagues she never puts a foot wrong. her expertise is explicable but the occasional slip might make her a little more sympathetic, and it would be interesting to, maybe one day, learn about something completely new alongside this intelligent and insightful heroine.
It doesn’t detract from this story, but it is a concern for the future. Because this is a series that has grown wonderfully and I am fascinated to see where it goes next.
For now though the themes and stories of Among The Mad are firmly lodged in my head. Thought-provoking indeed!