Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, Book 6)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: Still plugging along with Maisie Dobbs
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 128

I like the Maisie Dobbs books least when they seem too issues driven. If you could call Messenger of Truth "the poverty book" and An Incomplete Revenge "the discrimination book," then Among the Mad would be "the mental illness book." Maisie would say that these phases would come into her life through serendipity, but even though I find both Maisie and the books completely delightful, I have to admit that I feel like the themes feel less serendipitous than convenient for Winspear. In fact, sometimes if feels didactic, like she's pushing an agenda.

In Among the Mad, Maisie is nearly killed off in the opening scene, when a disabled veteran sets off a suicide bomb just as Maisie reaches out to stop him (suicide bombs in the 1930s? who knew?). Maisie works with Special Branch to try to figure out first, who the man was, and as she and other important citizens receive threats through the mail, who else out there has a mind to murder. While Maisie and Billy work on the case, they also grapple with the fate of Doreen, Billy's wife, who continues to struggle with depression after the death of their daughter (two books ago). Maisie's best friend Priscilla is also struggling with depression. It feels like a terrible time to be in London, with everyone going off to mental hospitals or threatening to set off bombs all the time.

One of the things I like best about the Maisie Dobbs books is that they're generally kind of understated. By that I mean that as a reader, I'm not really fearing that Maisie is going to be offed in the course of the novel. The only time I was kind of surprised by someone's death was when Billy's daughter died, and she was definitely a minor character, and one whose death provided a lot of the impetus for events in future novels. However, in this book, Maisie keeps ending up in life-threatening situations. In a book that comes in a series, it feels like a cheap shot to have Maisie's life in danger twice in one book, because we know she won't die. I think I have to believe that death is a possibility if someone is in a situation where the character could die.

Despite this being one of the weaker Maisie Dobbs novels, I still enjoyed it and I don't feel like the 10 hours I spent listening were a waste, because what comes next is well-worth putting in the time with this one.

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