Among the Mad (Paperback)
Picador USA, 9780312429256, 318pp.
Publication Date: November 24, 2009
March 2009 Indie Next List
— Becky Milner, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA
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In the thrilling new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of An Incomplete Revenge, Maisie Dobbs must catch a madman before he commits murder on an unimaginable scale
It's Christmas Eve 1931. On the way to see a client, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. The following day, the prime minister's office receives a letter threatening a massive loss of life if certain demands are not met and the writer mentions Maisie by name. After being questioned and cleared by Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yard's elite Special Branch, she is drawn into MacFarlane's personal fiefdom as a special adviser on the case. Meanwhile, Billy Beale, Maisie's trusted assistant, is once again facing tragedy as his wife, who has never recovered from the death of their young daughter, slips further into melancholia's abyss. Soon Maisie becomes involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict death and destruction on thousands of innocent people. And before this harrowing case is over, Maisie must navigate a darkness not encountered since she was a nurse in wards filled with shell-shocked men.
In Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear combines a heart-stopping story with a rich evocation of a fascinating period to create her most compelling and satisfying novel yet.
About the Author
Praise For Among the Mad…
"Absorbing and exciting . . . a fast-breaking case that takes Maisie Dobbs from 10 Downing Street to the meanest of London hovels. The book’s puzzle is challenging, but what charms most is Dobbs herself . . . engaging."--The Wall Street Journal
"Maisie has only her considerable wits and empathic skill to help Scotland Yard identify the killer. The hunt gets the pulse racing, but the real draw is Maisie herself, a wonderfully nuanced character . . . . [an] engrossing mystery."--People ****
"[An] accomplished series . . . British mysteries of manners, highly evocative of place, often historical, with a compelling main character . . . Dobbs is intelligent, intuitive, and empathetic (she could be Clarice Starling’s prototype)."--Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Maisie Dobbs is a revelation."--Alexander McCall Smith
"With a plot that seems ripped from the headlines, a sympathetic and intriguing heroine and prose that leaves the reader marveling at her powers, Winspear has again created a work of great moral probity in which the horror is leavened--and perhaps even surpassed--by the author’s encompassing humanity."--Richmond Times-Dispatch
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Discuss the ways in which The Great War has affect Massie Dobbs both personally and professionally, as psychologist and investigator. How do her experiences with soldiers and in combat palpably help her to solve the case at hand?
- What are the differences and similarities between Stephen Oliver and Billy Beale’s wife, Doreen? What distinguishes their psychological states?
- Many of the characters in Among the Mad grapple with mental distress—Dr. Lawrence, Professor John Gale, Detective Chief Superintendent MacFarland, Dr. Elsbeth Masters—how do their individual psychological states bring dimension and suspense to the novel as a whole?
- Under threat of mass terror, Stephen Oliver demands that the government immediately pay full pensions to all veterans —those who had sustained both physical and psychological injuries. At the same time, he writes in his diary “I just want to be heard.” Is he an activist or a terrorist, and to what extent do you sympathize with him.
- Though set in 1931, Among the Mad addresses many issues that are a part of our contemporary world—the political fall-out of wars, terrorism, a struggling economy. How does Jacqueline Winspear’s evocation of these troubles in another time shed light on turbulent days in the present?
- Maisie Dobbs thrives in a career largely dominated by men. But what are some of the advantages she has over MacFarland and Urquart? In what ways does she successfully deflect their antagonism? Were you surprised to find social commentary on equality threaded through the mystery? Along those same lines, do you think that Maisie’s intuitions as a detective are distinctly female, or are they coming from a different, higher place?
- Stratton, Darby, and MacFarland immediately suspect Mosley’s New Party and the student union activists are responsible for the letters, while Maisie takes her time to investigate the real identity of Ian Jennings and to take a closer look at Ms. Catherine Jones. How are the two approaches different? Do the other detectives miss the forest for the trees by looking at groups instead of individual motivations?
- Were you surprised by the brutality that Steven Oliver faced at the hands of people who were charged with healing him? How is such corruption possible? Is it ever for the greater good?
- Beyond acting as her loyal assistant, what role does Billy Beale really play in Maisie’s life? Does she need him on an emotional as well as professional level?
- Discuss Dr. Masters’ story about the lion and the gazelle on pg 136, and her rather spiritual understanding of shell shock. Do you agree with her, and if not, what metaphors would you select to illustrate that kind of suffering?
- Would you describe Dr. Lawrence as a tragic character? How do you feel about Maisie’s final gesture to reconcile with her at the end of the investigation?