Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review : "Among the Mad" by Jacqueline Winspear (a Maisie Dobbs mystery)

Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, #6)Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know if the Maisie Dobbs books fall in the 'chicklit' category or not, but I have a secret weakness for them. I am reading this one on my fancy new Kindle, which is skinnier than I would ever have thought possible. Life is good.

The burning question, of course, remains the same. Will this be the book where Maisie finally gets laid? Will she even get a chaste peck on the cheek? Lord knows, it's time - it's been 14 years since the end of the Great War, and the shell-shocked fiance who was confined to the loony bin was killed off a few books back. Surely, even the virtuous, feisty, wise Maisie HAS NEEDS.

But I'm not holding my breath. Much as I enjoy Jacqueline Winspear, it's clear by now that she's more interested in studding her books with those colorful period details mined from the bowels of the Bodleian than broaching a topic as indelicate as allowing Maisie a bit of nookie more than once a decade.

Not that we don't enjoy those lovingly researched period details - they warm the cockles of our BBC/Masterpiece Theatre/PBS-loving hearts. In general, Ms Winspear has a fairly light touch. Her books are fun to read, and this latest instalment is no exception. It seems churlish to point out that it would have been better to relegate the whole dead baby/bereaved mother subplot to whatever Dickens story it escaped from. A writer as talented as Ms Winspear has no need to resort to that kind of emotional manipulation.

added, July 16th, 2010:

Now that I've had a few days to digest "Among the Mad", I feel I should add that I think it's one of the best in the series. The main plot (escalating acts of terrorism by a wounded WWI veteran, involving the release of nerve gas, first targeting members of the government, then the general public, with a down-to-the-wire manhunt to find him before his planned New Year's Eve finale) could be taken from today's headlines. The slow buildup of tension is extremely well done - Winspear has a gift for pacing, and her account of the interactions among the various parties involved in the chase (Scotland Yard, the Special Branch, government research labs, Maisie and her assistant) is entirely convincing.

You could turn on your TV on any given Tuesday evening and find an episode of NCIS* whose plot is virtually identical to that of "Among the Mad". The forensics would be much glitzier, and the threat would be some kind of bio-weapon, but the themes and issues explored would be remarkably similar. We are used to thinking of Ms Winspear as someone who brings the past to life in her stories - the themes explored in this particular story still resonate in 2010.

*: another guilty pleasure of mine; comparison with NCIS should be considered as high praise (but it's frankly a relief that Maisie Dobbs doesn't have an iphone, particularly if you're a closet Luddite like me).

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1 comment:

  1. I don't know how I have missed Maisie, but I will get right on it as soon as I have digested the little pile of books currently decking the coffee table. Or I may just quietly shelve them to find again, years later, and go order Maisie.