Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BookLook Review "Among the Mad"


“Among the Mad”
I am a fickle friend to Maisie Dobbs. The main character of the series by Jacqueline Winspear deserves better. I love her and leave her and do not read her books in order. To the lovely lady at the library who insisted I must read the other four books before listening to the audio recording- I apologize. I have read the first book, which is my only requirement before stepping out of line and listening to “Among the Mad”. I have read others in the series and should have continued in sequence but I love the soft British accent of reader Orlagh Cassidy and couldn’t resist the CD’s. I started listening in the car on the way home from the library. I publicly confess my weakness but can’t give up this unforgivable behavior.

“Among the Mad” is a bit darker than other Maisie tales. As the title implies, the story is filled with troubled souls. On Christmas Eve 1931 Maisie is injured by a suicidal bomber who appeared to be an injured veteran begging on the street. She is then called upon by Inspector Stratton and Special Branch Chief McFarland to help find an insane letter writer who threatens to unleash a chemical terror unless his demands are met. What are his lunatic demands? He wants the neglected veterans of WWI to have improved pensions. He wants them to receive the physical and mental care they need. After serving their country so nobly they don’t deserve to be left to beg on the streets as people turn away from them.

Maisie’s assistant Billy is also struggling with his wife’s breakdown following the death of their little daughter. Maisie’s best friend confesses her melancholy has returned and with it her drinking problem. Both consulting psychiatric doctors Maisie turns to in the terrorist investigation suffer their own forms of disturbed behavior after their war service. Maisie continues to prefer a solitary life while mourning the death of her own beloved soldier. The post traumatic stress for all the war survivors combined in this story can be a bit overwhelming at times, as I’m sure it was in London during the 1930’s post-war Depression.

The Great War left many walking wounded. Shell shock was a newly diagnosed condition which covered every physiological problem presented by war veterans. Outwardly they didn’t appear injured, but on the inside there was terrible psychological damage. Victims were told to “chin up” and “carry on” for they were “made of sterner stuff”. Winspear used her experience with her grandfather’s shell shock condition to create her characters for the book. Although things brighten up at the end, it is a haunting story of the plight of veterans in all wars.

Although I struggle with reading any series, I understand the author’s need to keep producing books featuring their popular character. Many readers will spend lots of money on their true love. I also know writers don’t want to repeat too much information from previous books as a favor to their loyal followers. As a disloyal follower I don’t expect to be kept up to date and find I am able to skip around a bit and still enjoy the series.

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