It’s that time again! The sixth Maisie Dobbs book is entitled Among the Mad, and takes place within London (and surrounding environs, of course). Maisie is conscripted formally into the machine that is New Scotland Yard when she’s mentioned by name in a threatening letter aimed at the government. As is usual, this case involves the aftermath of WWI and its veterans, in the context of the depression in England. Also as usual, there is a personal embodiment in Maisie’s own life: Billy Beale’s wife is still struggling to process the death of their young daughter. The general issue is shell-shock, or what we would now call post-traumatic stress. Maisie is touched by the plight of veterans who are still suffering less obvious wounds, like psychological, mental, or emotional ones, and who are unable to find work or meaning in a changing world.
This was, for me, perhaps a lackluster episode in Maisie’s story. It had all the familiar elements: themes of social and economic injustice and the sobering reality of depressed post-war England; Maisie’s search for belonging in between social classes (although she’s more and more integrated into the middle class; more on that in a minute) and with few real friends; the immorality and futility of war, with foreshadowing of the next world war to come. Maisie does continue to grow. She displays a work of art in her home, a tapestry we can assume she made in the weaving class she was attending in the last book. At the end of the book, she buys a camera, which I interpret as both another artistic/creative outlet, and a connection to other humans. She displays photographs as a means of reminding herself of her relationships. She also starts seeing more of Priscilla, and seems to open up more; but I’m bothered by her acting as Psychologist & Investigator (and therapist) in their friendship. It may not be sufficiently different from her day job, if that makes sense. But these are all positive developments. And then there’s the big one, at the end of the book, when she declares (to herself at least) that she has regained her soul. The healing suggested by Simon’s death seems to have begun.
About Maisie’s social standing: did anyone notice that Catherine Jones accused Maisie of not knowing want, and Maisie didn’t correct her? And later, in considering the possibility that a foundling could have become a successful scientist, she concludes that such social/economic climbing would be impossible – “unless, of course, he was something of a chameleon. Like herself.” It sounds to me like Maisie’s made a pretty successful climb, but it’s left her as isolated as ever.
She does see some developments in her romantic life. It seems that Stratton continues to be interested, but frankly, I never saw him as a serious option. I know some of my fellow readers-along liked him as a candidate for love in Maisie’s life, but I felt he was a bit one-dimensional from the start, and a bit patronizing of Maisie as female detective. He’s come a long way in respecting her professionally, I’ll give him that. But still, aside from being a single parent, I don’t think we know anything interesting about him. I liked Dr. Dene, for his sense of humor and personal connection via Maurice; but that didn’t take. It was too early for Maisie. Our new friend MacFarlane, though, is more of a firecracker. He has more personality. I like him as an option for Maisie very much. I like his style, and I like that she fed him dinner in her apartment (!) and they shared really a very intimate evening. I hope to see more of him.
The mystery was engaging, too, and Winspear continues to twist her readers’ heartstrings with the criminal-as-victim and really very sad national situation that breeds situations like this one. It’s very poignant, powerful stuff. Still, I guess it’s beginning to be a bit patterned for my liking. I hope she’ll mix things up a bit in the next installment, The Mapping of Love and Death, which we shall discuss in another two weeks.
We saw less of Maurice in this book – really hardly saw him at all. There is discussion of he, and Maisie’s father Frankie, aging. She has precious few close friends, and I notice she’s not very forthcoming or honest with her father about her life. It really bothered me that she didn’t tell him about her injury at the start of the book. I know she likes to be a tough guy, and independent, but really. A single woman with a father who loves her should let him take care of her when she’s hurt at Christmas! At any rate, I’m glad she’s drawing closer to Priscilla, but hope she continues to expand her little circle, especially with the hinting at Maurice & Frankie’s mortality.
I still adore Billy, and find his family’s situation one of the stronger points of every book, actually. They feel very real to me, and perhaps because we follow them for the whole series (as opposed to the characters in each case, who come and go), they feel like Winspear’s best representation of the national malady. I think I am most anxious for them between books. The Beales, and Maisie’s love life, are my greatest concerns going into the next installment. I do like the mysteries, but I would like to see a little variety in the structure & subject of the next one.
Let’s discuss covers, briefly. For those of you also reading the series: the first image, above, is the standard hardcover design. It matches the rest of the series (at least the copies I’ve picked up), and I like the continuity; it’s recognizable. I like her cloche, too. (remember, I got my own in Maisie’s honor!) But this time I accidentally picked a large print edition (that was weird; had to turn pages much faster), whose cover you also see above. Although it’s not visually recognizable as belonging to the series, I think it expresses the subject matter (at least of the mystery part of the book) better. I guess the usual series covers are more about Maisie; the large print cover is more about post-war madness. What do you think?
Despite some gentle criticisms, I still like Maisie and can’t wait to see her through! We have just two books left – the last having been released just last week. I’m so glad I’m involved with this series, and am so glad to have a group of people to share her with. Don’t forget to check in with Book Club Girl, where this book is being discussed. And we’ll meet again in two weeks for The Mapping of Love and Death.
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