Maisie, Maisie, Maisie

More than once while reading Among the Mad I felt a bit like Jan Brady bemoaning the ubiquitous perfection of her older sister Marcia. Fortunately, Maisie Dobbs isn't my sister because after less than one chapter of her ubiquitous perfection I was hoping she would be the first victim of the mad bomber. I'm not proud of this unrealistic hope but Maisie does try my nerves.

I read Winspear's first Maisie Dobbs outing and finished it hoping that the author would exercise more restraint in future books. After all if anyone is likely to be a fan of this series about a World War I nurse turned investigator it's a mystery fan and WW1 buff such as me. And Winspear does get many things right in this series. The period details ring true. The role that the war plays in the lives of survivors seems more realistic than what is depicted in the otherwise enjoyable Ian Rutledge series. Maisie is a strong woman who doesn't need a man to save her, another point in her favor in my eyes.

The trouble is that Maisie is a drag. A humorless, know-it-all apparently without fault unless you count her relentless good works. In the first chapter alone she's bought Christmas presents for her assistant's family, given alms to a beggar and attempted to save a man from suicide. And made me feel like trash for wishing this paragon had been turned to bits by a grenade. I blame her document case. Nearly every chapter features some business with Maisie and her document case. She's tucking pages into it, placing it in her car, drawing wax pencils from it or, my personal favorite, taking two sets of surgical gloves and masks from it. (I'm sorry to report that last one actually made me laugh out loud.) Like the world's oldest Girl Scout, Maisie is always prepared.
A few human frailties and a sense of humor would broaden the appeal of this series. As would dialing down Maisie's superiority in comparison to, say, Scotland Yard.

If I've hard on this book it's because I think the series has promise. Winspear has made Maisie less of a psychic than she was in the first book and the narrator for this audiobook, Orlagh Cassidy is excellent. What might easily have been two stars on the page becomes four stars under Cassidy's nuanced reading. She gives Maisie more depth than the mere words do. The central mystery is decent enough though more of a serial killer hunt for the needle in the haystack than a golden era whodunit. The characters beyond Maisie, however, aren't terribly well-drawn. It's all Maisie which makes her lack of faults become tiring.

Still, if you enjoy period mysteries this series is worth checking out. My advice is to take advantage of Amazon's "Look Inside" feature and read a few pages. Some readers might find Winspear's attention to detail (Maisie doesn't rush into a call box to make a call; she goes to the box, opens the door, picks up the receiver, etc) a bit much. Others might find it just the ticket.

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