Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review of Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

From The Chronicle-Herald (Canada) --

Veterans’ plight plants seeds of unrest --

By: JoAnn Alberstat --
Feb 21, 2010 --

Maisie Dobbs series brings 1930s London into view

AMONG THE MAD, by Jacqueline Winspear, begins on Christmas Eve of 1931. Londoners have little reason to be merry 13 years after the First World War’s end. The streets are full of people still hurting physically and emotionally, with the Great Depression making matters worse.

Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is reminded how desperate times are when a disabled veteran uses a grenade to blow himself up on a busy street corner as she passes by. The PI, who is also a psychologist, is soon summoned to Scotland Yard, where she learns that a senior politician has received a threatening letter. The author demands that the government come up with a plan to help the unemployed, especially veterans, within 48 hours or acts of terrorism will follow.

The Yard’s special branch team enlists Dobbs’ help, not only because of her expertise, but because she’s mentioned in the letter. The PI has no idea why her name was used but believes the case is linked to the suicide.

As the clock ticks, Dobbs’ probe takes her to veterans’ hospitals and asylums; to 10 Downing St. and Oxford University laboratories.

Despite the weighty subject matter, Winspear keeps the plot simple and moving along as quickly as the female PI. But Winspear takes time to effectively weave details about the period throughout her novel, including the industrial advances, political unrest and burgeoning women’s rights movement.

A few post-First World War mystery series exist but Winspear’s is unique in having a female sleuth. While Dobbs blazes a trail in her profession, the former wartime nurse is acutely aware of her own slow recovery from wartime wounds and losses. Her training as a psychologist also gives her an uncanny insight into the criminal mind long before profilers came along.

Winspear’s interest in the period and soldiers’ mental health is personal. Her grandfather was a Great War veteran who was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme and suffered from shell shock.

This is Dobbs’ sixth appearance, with the seventh, Mapping of Love and Death, set for release next month.

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