>> Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
Series: #6 in the Maisie Dobbs series
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: 2009
The Short Version:
The plight of WWI veterans struggling with “shell shock” is at the heart of this story of a potential act of terrorism in 1930’s London
Why I Read It:
The newest book in this series is coming out this spring and I’m trying to get caught up before then.
On Christmas Eve Maisie Dobbs and her assistant Billy witness a gruesome suicide on a London street corner. She still travels to the country to spend the holiday with her father but on Boxing day is called back to London by Scotland Yard. A letter has been delivered that threatens massive deaths unless the letter writer’s demands are met. The letter mentions Maisie by name, but she has no idea why.
The detectives at Scotland Yard are suspicious of Maisie’s potential connection to the would-be terrorist, yet they enlist her assistance in the investigation.
At the same time as the investigation is proceeding, Maisie and Billy are coping with concerns about Billy’s wife Doreen who is suffering from a deep depression. Her admittance to a less than stellar mental hospital and treatment with what we now consider horrific methods has Maisie and Billy torn between their criminal investigation and doing whatever they can to get Doreen the help she needs.
The story highlights the horrors of the mental hospitals of the time and the plight of the World War I veterans struggling with what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder combined with the effects of the chemical weapons used during the war.
Every Maisie Dobbs book is a little different than the others. I like that they don’t become quite formulaic. In this one Maisie’s work with Scotland Yard makes it a little more of a police procedural than some of the earlier books in the series. There are also some of the usual elements I’ve come to expect in the books in this series. Maisie’s concern for her assistant Billy and his family continues and her efforts to help Doreen are a great part of the story. The way this was used to portray the things that both war veterans and civilians who needed mental health services had to deal with and just how little was available to them.
Maisie’s friend Priscilla is again a side story and always an enjoyable presence despite her own struggles and issues that stem from her experiences during the war made for a very interesting story.
The best part of this series for me is that it is so much more than the central mystery story. It’s a wonderful way to learn about London and its people during the time between the World Wars. While the aftermath of World War I and the economic troubles are very much part of all of the stories, there are also more and more hints and signs that trouble is brewing yet again in Europe.
I enjoy the gentleness of Maisie. As her relationship with Billy and becomes much deeper than employer/employee Maisie becomes more involved with Billy’s families and their lives. At the same time she tries to remain objective and she struggles with this balancing act. As a single woman with a career in a world where there are fewer single men due to the war, Maisie and women like her have to forge their own path and find plans for their lives that are quite different than they expected when they were growing up.
I highly recommend this series and also recommend reading it in order.