Among The Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Among The Mad

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!

10 responses

  1. Central London during 1931 and at Christmas no less, sounds perfect! Trouble is, I haven’t read any of the other books in this series yet. Would you recommend starting at the beginning or could I jump in here?

  2. Darlene – It’s a series worth reading and there is an ongoing storyline and interesting character development. But this book does stand up on its own and there’s enough explanation of the ongoing storyline that you wouldn’t be left at sea.

  3. This is one of my favorite series, and I share your concern with Maisie’s seeming perfection. I also find it interesting that we both used the same quote in our reviews: “She showed care.”

  4. I’m really enjoying this series as well and am curious to see where she’s going with it. Maisie does seem to be a perfectionist. She almost seems to try too hard–She seems to have built up a defense around herself, which is starting to crumble, so maybe it will make her seem less perfect in the future?

  5. I only read the first Maisie Dobbs novel, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t compel me to pick up any others. I think her method of investigating- just copying people’s stances and somehow getting a great deal of information about them in that manner- seemed a bit hollow to me. And yes, I agree. She seemed really perfect 🙂 But the illustrations for the covers are so fun and I do like the look at Britain between the wars.

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: October 17, 2009 : Semicolon

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