Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mystery Tales of Terror, Murder and the Surreal (Jacqueline Winspear)

From The Wall Street Journal --

Mystery Tales of Terror, Murder and the Surreal --

BOOKS MARCH 21, 2009, 9:02 P.M. ET --

Maisie Dobbs, the "psychologist and investigator" in Jacqueline Winspear's popular mystery series set in England in the first decades of the 20th century, is a person ahead of her time. Dobbs is an independent woman who earns her own living (and insists on being paid well), drives a sporty MG and perceives a victim within each villain. In a Sherlock Holmesian way, she practices the Eastern art of meditation; and like a modern-day profiler, she constructs a "template" of a criminal's personality and behavior as an aid to learning his whereabouts and identity.

A certain modern tinge also attaches to the London of 1931 that we see in the sixth Maisie Dobbs novel, the absorbing and exciting "Among the Mad" (Holt, 303 pages, $25). A terrorist cell stalks the city, committing grotesque acts of violence involving chemical weapons and the murder of a junior government minister. But who are the killers and what do they want? Is it a band of Oswald Mosley's fascists? An Irish Republican Army faction? The angry supporters of shell-shocked World War I veterans who have been denied pensions? Whoever the culprits are, it's clear that they "would kill to be heard."

Miss Dobbs, mentioned by name in a terrorist note, becomes a consultant to the police and to members of military intelligence; she must tread a cautious path between these rival forces in a fast-breaking case that takes her from 10 Downing St. to the meanest of London hovels. The book's puzzle is challenging, but what charms most is Dobbs herself: a woman "not as adept in her personal life as she was in her professional domain," and all the more engaging for that.

Mr. Nolan is the editor of Ross Macdonald's "The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator" (Crippen & Landru).

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