Among the Mad
by Jacqueline Winspear
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Among the Mad is #6 in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series about a former World War I nurse who uses her training in psychology as a private investigator in London, taking cases whose roots lie in the trauma of battlefield experiences.
On Christmas Eve 1931, Maisie Dobbs is walking along a street filled with hurrying crowds when she sees a maimed man sitting against a wall. "Even with some yards between them, she could see the grayness that enveloped him, the malaise, the drooping shoulders, one leg outstretched so passers-by had to skirt around him." A sixth sense warns her something is about to happen. The man's "black aura seemed to grow until it touched her." Moments later an explosion knocks her off her feet.
Before the day is over, Scotland Yard has recruited her assistance in a top-secret investigation. A man with horrible wartime memories – readers glimpse his disturbed thought processes as he writes in his diary – has sent a threatening letter to the British Home Secretary. Because it mentions Maisie, the threats seem connected to the suicide she witnessed. Maisie, aware that war veterans have been neglected by a government short of funds and a society that recoils from their physical and mental wounds, uncovers evidence of even worse wrongs as she pursues possible links between this case and the frenzied wartime efforts to find an antidote for German chemical weapons. A subplot involving the family of Maisie's devoted assistant, another war veteran, exposes the primitive nature of some of the mental institutions of the early 1930s.
The subtlety and restraint of the writing in Among the Mad makes its relentlessly grim subject all the more real for readers. Maisie handles the era's pervasive sexism with deft evasions or proportionate direct counterattacks as the situation warrants, but without making much fuss over it. Similarly, the plight of shell-shocked veterans needs no exaggeration. (2009, 303 pages)
More about Among the Mad at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other mysteries featuring detectives haunted by World War I:
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (2003), #1 in the Maisie Dobbs series. More info
By A Slow River by Philippe Claudel (2006), about a French detective's efforts to solve cold cases from the World War I period. More info
A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (1996), about a Scotland Yard inspector suffering from shell-shock; #1 in the Inspector Rutledge mystery series. More info
Nonfiction about shell shock during World War I and its aftermath:
Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War by Peter Leese (2002). More info
Broken Men: Shell Shock, Treatment and Recovery in Britain, 1914-1930 by Fiona Reid (April 2010). More info
Shellshock at the Spartacus Educational website
Wikipedia article on Combat Stress Reaction
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