Among the Mad: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
Jacqueline Winspear has created a unique sleuth in Maisie Dobbs.
Her combined professions of psychologist and detective surely
precede what would now be called a psychological profiler. Maisie
uses her hard-wired intelligence and highly developed intuition to
aid her in solving cases between World War I and World War II
England. AMONG THE MAD, the sixth book in this period mystery
series, is set in London during Christmas 1931 through New
On Christmas Eve, Maisie and her assistant Billy Beale set off
to deliver a final report to a client. They come across a man
sitting on the pavement in some distress, and Maisie tells Billy to
move away. Her keen sense of people informs her that something is
not quite right. Shortly thereafter an explosion occurs. Maisie,
who is injured in the blast, becomes a witness to the crime. Billy,
a WWI veteran, identifies the weapon as a Mills bomb, or a basic
hand grenade. But the identity of the man who died while setting
off the explosive is a mystery.
Billy spends Christmas Day with his family, while Maisie goes to
visit her father. Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief
Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of the Special Branch calls her
back to London. A letter has arrived at Westminster demanding that
the government alleviate the suffering of the unemployed,
especially those who have served their country in wartime. If no
action is taken by a specific deadline, the letter implies that
harm will come to England, its people and the Prime Minister.
Maisie, who is also mentioned in the letter, becomes an advisor on
the case for MacFarlane.
As the Special Branch begins their search for the person who
wrote the letter and the identity of the suicide victim, Maisie
calls on her contacts from her nursing days during WWI. She
interviews a doctor with whom she worked alongside in surgery and
who is now studying the effects of gas and nerve agents in wartime.
She knows well the suffering and loss that men experience in war.
With this knowledge, she hopes she can determine the lifestyle,
background and behaviors that may lead her to the letter writer
and/or the dead man.
As she races against time, another attack occurs. This time a
poisonous gas is released at a dog and cat shelter. More
threatening letters arrive. Maisie and Scotland Yard realize that
their suspect has the power to inflict immense harm. As they
continue to investigate, Maisie uncovers evidence that leads her to
conclude that the letter writer is mentally unstable, suffering
from the post-traumatic effects of war. He is a forgotten man with
a vendetta against the system that abused and abandoned him.
This series is set in a time when people were facing the social
consequences of war and the resulting economic conditions that
deeply affect daily life. Worse yet, another war is looming.
Winspear’s usual cast of characters is also undergoing their
own individual losses. Billy’s wife requires special care
after the demise of their daughter. Priscilla Partridge,
Maisie’s friend, continues to recover from the deaths of her
brothers in WWI.
Winspear’s writing transcends time and place. Even though
the characters and their conflicts are set in another era, the
reader gets a sense of the familiar as they struggle to avert
crisis. She creates a rich tapestry of characters that are
developed against the backdrop of England between two World Wars.
However, it is Maisie Dobbs who continues to intrigue. Maisie is a
unique protagonist who is not only intelligent, but has the smarts
to use her sixth sense to solve complicated mysteries around
sensitive and important matters. She also maintains her personal
integrity about the truths of the cases she investigates, which
makes her an indomitable heroine.
I have enjoyed this series from the first book to the latest
story, and can hardly wait for the next Maisie Dobbs mystery.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on December 22, 2010