Among the Mad: A Maisie Dobbs Novel Paperback – Nov 24 2009
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“Absorbing and exciting . . . a fast-breaking case that takes Maisie Dobbs from 10 Downing Street to the meanest of London hovels. The book's puzzle is challenging, but what charms most is Dobbs herself . . . engaging.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Maisie has only her considerable wits and empathic skill to help Scotland Yard identify the killer. The hunt gets the pulse racing, but the real draw is Maisie herself, a wonderfully nuanced character . . . . [an] engrossing mystery.” ―People ****
“[An] accomplished series . . . British mysteries of manners, highly evocative of place, often historical, with a compelling main character . . . Dobbs is intelligent, intuitive, and empathetic (she could be Clarice Starling's prototype).” ―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Maisie Dobbs is a revelation.” ―Alexander McCall Smith
“With a plot that seems ripped from the headlines, a sympathetic and intriguing heroine and prose that leaves the reader marveling at her powers, Winspear has again created a work of great moral probity in which the horror is leavened--and perhaps even surpassed--by the author's encompassing humanity.” ―Richmond Times-Dispatch
About the Author
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR is the author of several Maisie Dobbs novels. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Maisie is is at her best. The mystery is mysterious and the solution is realistic. A great read.
Barely escaping with her life, Maisie had innocently walked up to him, his leg stretched out, as if he were lame. And as she had reached into her bag to offer money to someone who had so little, the grenade had suddenly exploded. There was a point at which Maisie new that the man would take his life. The man had been a soldier, the right leg amputated. As Detective Inspector Richard Stratton, who saw it all happen offers Maisie as measure of comfort, she remains haunted by the sense that someone had seen her reach out to the doomed man, had seen their eyes meet just before he pulled the pin that would ignite the grenade.
It is this attack that coincides with a much larger threat. In a wet London with an "unyielding quality of gray light that makes the word Merry Christmas seem hardly worth saying," a note, soiled by saliva, is received by the Home Security, telling of a terrible disaster involving a lethal nerve agent. The note also mentions Maisie's name and demands that the government act immediately to alleviate the suffering of all unemployed, starting with measures to assist those who have served their country in wartime.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In this, Winspear's sixth novel in the series, Maisie is unwittingly dragged into a case that involves terrorist threats. After witnessing a man she believes to be a troubled veteran blow himself up with a hand grenade, her name is mentioned in a threatening letter that another soldier sends to Scotland Yard and top government ministers. Along with her former admirer, Inspector Stratton, Maisie must work with Special Branch police to fend off a chemical weapons threat from a disturbed individual demanding that the government treat veterans -- disabled or otherwise -- fairly and honorably. It's a difficult case for Maisie, not only because she must grapple with her own mixed emotions -- she has seen, all too clearly, the struggle that the men she once nursed in France have when they try to return civilian life -- but because she is also grappling with the personal problems of her assistant, Billy Beale, and her closest friend.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, given this somber backdrop, the novel often feels very intense and even downright melancholy. That's appropriate, given the subject matter. Still, this would have been a stronger book had Winspear had a lighter touch with both plot and characters. (I have read serial killer novels that felt less dark and depressing.) Still, Winspear's writing is exceptionally strong and powerful, doing justice to the themes she chooses to explore. She also avoids the easy plot twists; Maisie, a complex character who has risen to her current status from life as a servant, has yet to find romance in her postwar life.
I am beginning to wonder, however, how long a series with such a narrow focus can endure. Shell shock and the trauma of rebuilding a life after a war is not a theme that offers enough that is new and fresh to remain the core of Maisie's investigations and Winspear's writing for many more books. Yes, it's unquestionably important, but at some point the reader is going to start to shrug his or her shoulders, saying that they've heard it all before. Moreover, as 1932 dawns in Maisie's fictional world, other factors are now emerging as important. There is a global depression taking hold, the Blackshirts are marching in London (a fact that gets one short, cryptic reference in this book) and within a year, Hitler will take power in Germany. I, for one, hope that Winspear finds a way to blend her fascination with the Great War with a more diverse array of mysteries for Maisie to investigate and plots that depend as much upon what is happening contemporaneously as what happened more than a decade previously. Continuing to revisit the same territory without some new element will, I fear, cause some of her readers, myself among them, will begin to fall by the wayside.
For those who have not yet stumbled across Rennie Airth, I'd recommend two other mysteries set in the same time period: The Blood-Dimmed Tide (Penguin Mysteries)and River of Darkness. I was elated to discover this superb author has a third book coming out this summer. While I'll give Winspear's latest four stars, either of Airth's books -- which deal with similar issues -- easily capture a fifth star. Charles Todd's longer series features a Scotland Yard detective grappling with shell shock, but who investigates a wide array of crimes, some of which have no connection to the war itself. Increasingly, I am coming to prefer that series to Winspear's books, simply because of the variety of themes the books explore.
Although the Depression is an important element of the society that Ms. Winspear effectively constructs, the psychological injury caused by the Great War seems to be the dominant theme and the major depressant on the characters. The book opens with a former soldier committing suicide on the sidewalk as Maisie witnesses in horror; it continues as the police and Maisie try to track down an insane former soldier who is threatening to commit terrorist attacks in London to bring attention to the needs of veterans; the wife of Maisie's employee Billy becomes deranged by the death of her young daughter and has to be hospitalized; and Maisie has to deal with what seems to be the impending nervous breakdown of her best friend Priscilla. Practically EVERYONE in this book has serious mental problems; it exceeds credibility.
The atmosphere of this psychologically dysfunctional society overwhelms the book to the detriment of the plot. During most of the book, Maisie and the police are racing against time to locate a potential mass murderer, but there is little sense of suspense because all the details about the society and the historical background that created it and molded the characters slow the plot to a plod.
The overwhelming attention to the atmosphere also seemed to result in short shrift being given to the development of the characters. Two police officers, McFarland and Stratton, might be interested in Maisie romantically, but they were not QUITE well-developed enough for me to be sure...or to care. There is a significant subplot about a scientist whose devotion to his science or maybe to ego gratification leads him to commit immoral acts, but the character of this scientist should have been developed more, so that we could have understood him better. The point of view never let us get inside these people. Maisie herself seems flat; it is hard to tell what motivates her.
I listened to this book, and the medium may have affected my impressions, since I enjoyed the 3 Maisie Dobbs books I read the traditional way much more. The reader has a wonderful British accent, but her delivery seemed a bit melodramatic and unnatural. I found especially annoying her habit of accenting certain words in a sentence that struck me as NOT the words a person would normally stress. I kept wondering, "Is she implying some emotion or attitude I don't get, or is this just bad reading?" Whichever it was, I would suggest that you read other Maisie Dobbs books before you tackle this one, and if you get as far as book 6, read the book rather than listening to the audio.
Another anonymous (and mentally ill) veteran observes the suicide, and shortly afterward issues a threat, telling the authorities that he will "demonstrate [his] power," if the government does not alleviate the suffering of war veterans within forty-eight hours. "If you doubt my sincerity," he says, "ask Maisie Dobbs." Interviewed by Scotland Yard, the Special Branch, and military intelligence, Maisie convinces the authorities that she has had no previous contact with the suicide, and they eventually hire her to help them identify and then find the person who has issued the threat. As the hours tick down, the brilliant but obviously insane man takes action, quickly demonstrating that he is an expert on gases and proving that he will use them. Old Year's Day, on Dec. 31, is the day he intends to demonstrate his full power on the crowds celebrating in London.
Maisie's investigation takes her into the dark world of insane asylums, those who run them, the treatments they provide, and their chances for success, at the same time that the author also depicts the political and social unrest in the aftermath of the war. The issue of mental illness takes on particularly poignant notes because Doreen Beale, the wife of Billy Beale, Maisie's conscientious assistant, is still so fixated on the death of one of their children, though a year has passed, that she refuses to believe her child has died, and she is unable to care for their two surviving children.
Jacqueline Winspear writes in an exceptionally clear and simple style, and though her theme is thought-provoking, she never lets complex details bog down her fast-paced narrative. Her depiction of the social mores and the political policies of the era between the two world wars give an authenticity to the atmosphere which pervades the novel. As Maisie gradually comes to terms with her own emotional limitations as a result of her war experiences, the novel hints at new directions to come in future novels. n Mary Whipple
Maisie Dobbs, 2003
Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries), 2004
Pardonable Lies: A Maisie Dobbs Novel, 2005
Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel, 2006
An Incomplete Revenge: A Maisie Dobbs Novel, 2008
Maisie is, of course, solving a mystery while also extending a helping hand to an employee and to a friend. Along the way she gains more insight into her own character.
What do we expect from mystery/thrillers? Whodunnit, of course, and some action - mental or physical or, better yet, both. In excellent mysteries we also expect the exploration of a worth-while topic, whether it be the plundering of Bagdad museums or the cultural norms of the Seneca nation.
There is darkness here, both in the plot and in the problems of the characters, but -- unlike Elizabeth George's characters, for example -- the protagonists here are not miserable people. Billy and his wife have lost a child; Maisie has lost her long-time love. But they are capable of happiness. The time of year, year's end in foggy London, increases the foreboding, as it never seems to be full daylight. There are a few too many men with important jobs running around for the casual reader to keep straight. If it's important that someone took a train, we should be able to remember who he is.
But the plot keeps everything moving, with timed treats ticking off the hours. It's easily the most high-tension novel Winspear has given us. One reviewer here complains that the book continues after the crime is solved -- not so. There are two endings, the public and the private. For fans of the series, this is a big reward.
The Maisie Dobbs series is grounded in social justice issues - class boundaries are at the heart of it, but each novel has its own additional agenda. Yes, it makes for a darker read than Wodehouse provides, but then Jeeves never went to Cambridge, did he? If we have a thinking protagonist, we must expect her to think.
If you read with pleasure Laurie R King's Touchstone, you will treasure this novel.