reviews: an incomplete revenge and among the mad

26 07 2009

Two more Maisie Dobbs finished: An Incomplete Revenge and Among the Mad.  In An Incomplete Revenge, Maisie is asked by James Compton to investigate some acts of vandalism on an estate in Kent that he is interested in purchasing.  Her assistant, Billy, is already heading to the area for the annual hop picking with his family.  What seems like a simple inquiry becomes more complicated as Maisie learns of yearly fires in the town – incidents that she ties to a family that were killed by a Zepplin raid during the war.  More of Maisie’s history is also brought out in this volume, as Winspear reveals that Maisie’s grandmother was a gypsy and Maisie reconnects with their culture during the course of her investigation.  The central mystery was very powerful, just as it was in Messanger in Truth, though to me, I felt those that were guilty were not punished sufficiently, and that made the ending a bit disappointing for me.

Among the Mad struck me as quite different from the other Maisie Dobbs novels I’ve read.  It begins with Maisie and Billy witnessing a desperate young man take his life just before Christmas.  A couple of days later, Maisie is brought into Scotland Yard because an anonymous letter threatening an attack mentions her name and they suspected that the letter is connected to the young man who took his life.  The letter writer wants something done for the soldiers who fought in WWI, those who are suffering in a society that doesn’t see or acknowledge them, and threatens to bring the type of chemical warfare seen in the trenches to 1930s London.  This volume of Winspear’s series very much focuses on shell shock and the difficulties faced by those trying to adjust after the war.  The dangers posed by those that feel themselves on the fringes of society and the dangers of chemical warfare had strong contemporary parallels.  The political elements of the novel seem more pronounced than in the earlier volumes, and the tone seems darker – fitting with the shift in society at that period and the darkening clouds of WWII.  While I think that a shift is necessary given the period Maisie is now living in, there was also quite a bit of darkness in terms of the personal lives of those close to Maisie (Billy and Doreen Beale and her friend Priscilla), and though Winspear has Maisie say that there is a peace and lightness and freedom in her now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more in the book that showed that to me.

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