The New Maisie Dobbs, Among the Mad

Am I the only Maisie Dobbs fan who didn’t like this book? Judging from the various reviews I’ve read or skimmed, everyone has nothing but praise for it. Although the New York Times crime critic, Marilyn Stasio, did refer to Maisie as “humorless.” In spades.

Some of what was wrong with this book could have been fixed by line editing, or an editor’s eye. Certain phrases were repeated numerous times. For example, when Maisie shook hands with male detectives from Scotland Yard, she’d say, “He held onto my hand a few more seconds than was absolutely necessary.” That lets us know, I guess, that they’re attracted to Maisie and revealing their feelings in an inappropriate way which she does not appreciate. Part of the humorlessness, I guess.

I’ve enjoyed the earlier books in the series. In fact, I couldn’t wait until the second one made its appearance. But I was disappointed with the last one, too.

In Among the Mad, the theme is the shameful treatment of WWI vets and the way in which it sends one man over the edge. This has been a thread running through all the Maisie Dobbs books, and appropriately. Given the horrors of that war for Europeans, and the millions who died or came home maimed, it’s about time for an author who has a wide audience to bring a forgotten part of history to life–especially for Americans, who tend to think they were the saviors. Think about the song “Over There.” “The Yanks are coming, the yanks are coming, etc.” We didn’t show up until the very end.

But I thought Winspear was rather heavy handed in driving her point home, with too many interior monologues and/or written diary entries that basically made the same arguments again and again, until it no longer seemed sympathetic to me. The author’s portrayal of Maisie’s brain-damaged fiancee Simon, before his death, was more empathetic and humane, in my view.

As always, I enjoyed the human interest created by Billy, Maisie’s assistant, and the predicament of his unfortunate wife Doreen. The horrofic way in which people with emotional problems were treated was not reserved for returning vets alone. Maisie comes alive in her dealings with Billy and his family. She seems more loving, open, and well, more like the rest of us.

With her legions of fans, Winspear is sure to have another success with her latest. What did you think? Agree or disagree?

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