Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Among the Mad

Summary: Christmas Eve, 1931. On the way to see a client, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. The following day, the Prime Minister’s office receives a letter threatening a massive loss of life if certain demands are not met--and the writer mentions Maisie by name. Tapped by Scotland Yard’s elite Special Branch to be a special adviser on the case, Maisie is soon involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict destruction on thousands of innocent people. 

In Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear combines a heart-stopping story with a rich evocation of a fascinating period to create her most compelling and satisfying novel yet. -- Picador

AMONG THE MAD by Jacqueline Winspear is the sixth book in the Maisie Dobbs series. If you recall, I am participating in Book Club Girl's Mad for Maisie readalong where I am attempting to read all eight of the Maisie Dobbs books in a little over two months. While I definitely love the books in this series and recommend them to fans of both historical fiction and mysteries, I admit that I kind of wish I had spaced reading these books out over a longer period of time. Not so much because I haven't enjoyed all of the books, but rather because it's getting so darn hard to write these reviews!

AMONG THE MAD was actually a little different from the other books that I've read in the Maisie Dobbs series. I don't want to make it sound like all of these books are the same or that the stories even run together, because that's not the case. However, AMONG THE MAD had a different feel to it... and it was exactly what I needed to happen at this point in this series. AMONG THE MAD still had the terrific mystery aspect as well as the characters I've come to know and love, but the pace of this book was much faster. Maisie, working as a special advisor to Scotland Yard, was attempting to find the identity of a crazed man who was threatening to inflict damage on innocent people. The clock was ticking and the sense of urgency was apparent throughout the novel.

As is the case in all of the Maisie Dobbs books, I appreciated that the author continued to keep the theme of war (and the effects on its victims) as a major part of this story. I don't want to give anything away because I truly thought the mystery in this story was very intriguing, but Maisie ended up discovering an extremely scary (and very believable) scenario that was primarily the result of the war effort on a few troubled individuals. I actually thought the crime, the motivations for the crime as well as the crime's resolution might have been the most interesting of any Maisie Dobb case yet.

In addition to the mystery surrounding the "mad" man behind the crimes and threats, I also appreciated how this book explored depression and mental illness. I did find this book to be rather dark and many of the characters actions were disturbing to me, but I thought they all seemed to be realistic. In addition, I loved how the author showed two very different (and equally serious) ways to grieve. Ms. Winspear did a great job of juxtaposing how one character didn't have the ability to stop looking back and living in the past while another character couldn't handle moving forward. Both charaters were almost paralyzed because of their grief and fears.

Another thing I liked about this book is that it touched upon so many topics that are relevant today. Even though this book took place in London in 1931, I was surprised to see how many of the political and economical issues mentioned in the novel are still occurring today. For example, political activism, terrorism, and a struggling economy are incredibly timely in today's world; and I definitely can see how desperate times call for desperate measures.

While much of AMONG THE MAD did deal with some very sobering issues, I enjoyed seeing how Maisie's character continues to change. There is no doubt that she is still dealing with the effects of the war on her life; however, I sense that Maisie can finally release some things from her past and move on with her life. I was happy to see that Inspector Stratton had a larger role in this novel, and I also liked seeing Maisie's personal interactions with her friends, co-workers, and even some potential suitors!

AMONG THE MAD would make for a very interesting discussion book club discussion. There is a great reading guide which brings to light many of the fascinating issues addressed in this novel. I have to warn you, though, that the discussion questions do include some spoilers. Some of the topics you might want to talk about include depression/mental illness, activism, the effects of war, friendships, dependency, and terrorism.

I sure hope by now that I've convinced some of you to give the Maisie Dobbs series a try! These books really are highly entertaining and thought provoking!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book.

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

Since you've read 6 of the Maisie books already, I predict you'll complete the readalong. The series sounds so good - I can't wait to give it a try.

Beth F said...

I will do my best to get the first one read by ... was it BEA? The series sounds like my kind of mysteries.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed how this series keeps getting better. And I love this book mixed up the formula yet still stayed true to the series. Great review.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm so impressed with how much people like this series! I guess I won't be resisting it for long!

Audra said...

I tried the first Maisie Dobbs and enjoyed it enough -- but I put it down unfinished and never picked it up again -- and that was a year ago! The newest Maisie Dobbs keeps popping up on my blogroll so I might have to give her another chance...

Anonymous said...

Ah, man, this has been such a good series! I jumped ahead for a tour review but I'm back to ATM, right now and almost done. It's so good. I think it's matched with Messenger of Truth for my favortie, so far. I really underestimated how much I would enjoy these books. It looks like everyone else is digging them too!

Sandy Nawrot said...

It has to be very tough for a writer to keep a series interesting and slightly different, just to keep people coming back. I read almost the whole Jack Reacher series one summer, and as much as I love him, it is hard to read one after another after another. Gets blurry.

Unknown said...

I only recently read about Jacqueline Winspear and the Maisie Dobbs series and I'm very interested in reading these books. They sounds like a good mix of cozy mystery and great detective work. It's awesome that you are reading the entire series. It sounds like you're just about finished!