Book Reviews

Review: “The Madness Underneath,” Maureen Johnson

July 17, 2016
Review: “The Madness Underneath,” Maureen JohnsonThe Madness Underneathby Maureen Johnson
Series: Shades of London #2
Published by Speak on February, 2013
Genres: Ghosts, Mystery
Pages: 290
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Deveaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends

But Rory's brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she's become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades--the city's secret ghost-fighting police--are responsible for her return.

The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it's too late.

Sadly, The Madness Underneath continued to emphasize the weaker elements of Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series. I’m not sure whether it suffered from ‘sophomore syndrome’, or if it was just weak plot-wise, but The Madness Underneath lacked any real plot.

 “After that, I felt like I had two lives. There was the me I had been before the attack, the one people knew and wanted to relate to. The one people wanted to comfort and fix. And there was another me, a hidden me that no one ever saw. There was a me who had tasted death. That me knew things others people didn’t know.”

What I really enjoyed about its predecessor, The Name of the Star, was that it had its own ‘contained mystery’ within the grand scheme of a larger plot. We had the problem of the Jack the Ripper copycat against the backdrop of Rory finding out about the Shade organisation and what they do. While The Madness Underneath title reflects the fact that Wexford was built sort-of-on-top of the old Bedlam Hospital, unfortunately we didn’t have as much of an ‘in-depth’ mystery containing these ghosts.

With the opening chapter from the bar owners POV, I was immediately drawn in. I almost rubbed my hands together in anticipation for another olden day London mystery. When the crack appeared after Jo and Newman’s obliteration, spidering out into the neighbourhood, it was a great starter for what appeared to be a very ghostly problem. Imagine my disappointment when it all seemed to end after one mini ghostly encounter at the Gunpowder pub?

Was that it? Seriously? It seemed to be building up into something fantastic and it all seemed to be simply swept aside in favour of a bigger plot concerning a cult-like councillor and her whacky followers – one that did not conclude, but will flow over into the next book.

 “I felt like I was faking all of this, like I was playing the part of a student. I had the costume and the props, but I didn’t really belong here. I’d pinned notes on the stupid corkboard backing of my desk, and I’d highlighted things…But it was all so meaningless.”

Of course, Rory (with her new human-terminus powers) has become an asset, and everyone wants to get her hands on her. I could forgive the general special snowflakiness, but I couldn’t forgive her flat out stupidity throughout this whole book. For someone who was meant to be a stellar student, not once did Rory ever seem to take her position at Wexford seriously (and I mean that in The Name of the Star, too) It’s like she got admitted there and realised she would never catch up, so she barely tried. Constantly sneaking out for stupid reasons and just ignoring the rules, I wasn’t surprised that she was ejected from the school for a second time. I don’t even know why Maureen Johnson decided to put her back into Wexford in The Madness Underneath at all, because it didn’t serve the plot in the slightest.

Apart from her stupidity, Rory also seems to smash all the relationships she spent the first half of The Name of the Star so carefully building. Characters like Jerome and Jazza are rarely used, and although I wasn’t fond of the relationship with Jerome, it just felt a bit pointless. I still haven’t warmed up to Stephen, Callum or Boo that much and it’s quite sad. I feel like I can’t find a fondness for them and it’s really impacting on my enjoyment of the blossoming romance between Rory and Stephen (yes, can you believe it?)

Regardless of all these low points, The Madness Underneath was still another quick read and I’m still glued to the pages because I’m so interested in the Shade world of London and immersing myself in the setting. I will be continuing on with The Shadow Cabinet, which will hopefully be an improvement on this one.

The Madness Underneath left off on a rather interesting cliffhanger; one that I’m eager to discover the conclusion to. I just wish this book had been better plot-wise, with a stronger contained ghostly mystery like its predecessor.

About Maureen Johnson

Maureen knew from an early age she wanted to be a writer. She went to high school at an all-girls' Catholic school and graduated from University of Delaware with a degree in writing. She now lives and writes in New York City. Many of the adventures Maureen's characters face in her books are based on real-life stories. Maureen has traveled all over Europe, and is a Secret Sister to vlog brothers Hank and John Green.

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