I’ve already posted my letter B in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet series, but here is a late entry for the letter A.
Among the Mad is by Jacqueline Winspear. It is the sixth in the Maisie Dobbs Mystery series. It begins on Christmas Eve in 1931 in London where Maisie notices a man sitting on the pavement. About to give him some change she becomes aware of a strange sensation of impending danger, somehow she knew that the man was about to take his life and before she can reach him there is an explosion. This is the start of a series of terrifying events threatening the safety of not only Maisie but also thousands of innocent people.
Although the Great War had ended more than thirteen years years ago it still haunts Maisie and her assistant Billy Beale and this suicide brings all its horrors back to them. This is a dark novel as Maisie is drawn into the investigation by Scotland Yard to discover the identity of the man who is threatening to kill thousands of people unless his demands are met. It highlights the desperate conditions of the war veterans suffering still from shell-shock, unable to work and receiving no pensions. As first dogs and birds and finally a Government junior minister are found dead from some unknown chemical substance the search becomes increasingly more sinister as the mind of the madman is revealed.
At the same time Among the Mad gives agonising details of the medical treatment given to woman suffering from melancholia in the mental hospitals of the time when Billy’s wife, Doreen is admitted to Wychett Hill, or as Billy describes it “the bleedin’ nuthouse”. Doreen undergoes some kind of insulin therapy, and both Maisie and Billy are horrified to find her
lying on a cast-iron bed, her eyes wide open, her face contorted as she jerked her head back and forth on the pillow. Her wrists were secured to the bed on either side of her body, and her feet had been strapped to the bottom of the bed. Her slender wrists reminded Maisie of a sparrow’s tiny bones, set against the dark leather biting into her skin. Doreen had lost so much weight it seemed as if the sheet and blanket were flush across the bed, with slight protrusions to indicate the position of her feet, knees and hips. (pages 117-8)
I enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books; Maisie is meticulous, with great attention to detail, reflective and caring. There is so much social history which fascinated me, making me want to know more about the 1930s. There is also an interesting glimpse of Oswald Mosley:
He’s been hobnobbing with the likes of the Italian, Mussolini, and there’s talk that he’s thinking of setting up a Fascist Party here. There’s a recipe for terror, if ever I came across it. (page 103)