Jacqueline Winspear's newest Maisie Dobbs book, Among the Mad, is one of the most thoughtful, timely mysteries you will read this year, even though the main action is set in one short week in December, 1931. And, it's scary.
On Christmas Eve, Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, is running errands with her assistant, Billy Beale, when she notices a man who appears to be homeless. As she turns around to give him money, he blows himself up. Detective Inspector Richard Stratton of Scotland Yard arrives at the scene, and collects Maisie and Billy as witnesses. When the government receives threatening letters, Scotland Yard calls on Maisie to work on the case, since her name was mentioned in the letter, and there is a possibility of connection to the suicide.
Dobbs, herself a veteran of the war, recognizes the despair in the letter. The writer wants the government to alleviate the suffering of the unemployed, or threatens more than one suicide. She, herself, knows that London can be "a desperate place," with people out of work, returning vets with no jobs, mentally scarred men and women trying to cope with the aftereffects of war. However, even as the threats and dangers escalate, Maisie knows it's like looking for a needle in a haystack to look for one man who is mentally scarred, out of a nation of hundreds of thousands of people who are wounded.
In one short week, Maisie and Scotland Yard face a human time bomb. Winspear allows the reader to feel Maisie's mounting fear and anxiety, along with the deteriorating condition of the author of those threats.
It is a post-war England, suffering from a poor economy, where returning vets suffer from homelessness, shell-shock, and desperation. Winspear uses Maisie and her best friend, Priscilla, as well as the tragic story of Billy Beale's wife, to show the raw emotions of everyone in the country, the fear, and, at times, lack of hope in the future.
Winspear quietly ratchets up the tension in the novel until Maisie Dobbs faces a killer, and her own turmoil, on New Year's Eve. Among the Mad is a thought-provoking, masterful novel.
Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt and Company, ©2009. ISBN 9780805082166 (hardcover), 320p.