The Madness Underneath: The Shades of London, Book Two by Maureen Johnson. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2013. Personal copy. Sequel to The Name of the Star.
The Plot: Rory, physically recovered from being stabbed by a killer ghost, returns to her boarding school. That ghost is gone, but she soon realizes that other dangerous ghosts are haunting London. As Rory tries to navigate her separate worlds (student by day, ghost hunter by night) she discovers that there are sometimes things more dangerous than ghosts.
The Good: While I enjoyed The Name of the Star, I loved, loved, loved The Madness Underneath. The Name of the Star is like the TV Pilot that gets the gang together and sets up a premise and The Madness Underneath is the episode where it all comes together and sparks fly.
The Madness Underneath quickly brings the reader up to speed, so, to be honest, I don’t think you need to start with The Name of the Star. Rory can see ghosts; her family and her friends at boarding school don’ t know this; she sneaks out at all hours to assist ghost-seeing ghost-hunters. Got it? Good.
Rory, quite understandably, hasn’t been concentrating on her school work, on account of the whole being stabbed and almost dying thing. Also, ever since then, it’s not just that she can see ghosts; with a touch, she can kill them. Or, whatever it is you call it when the ghost goes away, permanently. The ghost hunters — Stephen, Callum, and Boo — send some mixed messages. She’s valuable because of her ability to terminate ghosts. She cannot tell anyone anything about them, ever. She’s on call when they need her. She cannot be an official part of the team because she’s still in school and is an American. In other words, not only does Rory have a lot going on, there’s also no one with whom she can be completely honest. Her lies keep piling up.
Rory suspects a local murder isn’t what it seems; at the same time, she starts seeing a new therapist who really seems to be able to help her. The Madness Underneath is a mystery, so I don’t want to give too much plot-wise away, but things get complicated and it all happens fast. Every now and then I was a few steps ahead of Rory; other times, I was finding things out at the same time she was. (Long time readers of this blog know that is just how I like my mysteries, because I get to be both smart and surprised.) What interested me as a reader is that the mystery wasn’t what it seemed to be, at first, and I liked that sleight of hand.
What I can give away? Rory herself, who is funny, adding needed humor to a tale that is otherwise, when one steps back and thinks about it, deep and dark and layered. “Julia might well have asked me, ‘Rory, do you want me to go live in the sky? On a Pegasus?’ It was not going to happen.”
Rory is also pretty smart in her observations about those around her. Here she is on her boyfriend Jerome: “I’d gotten used to not being around Jerome, and strangely, this had made us closer. We’d definitely gotten more serious in the last two weeks, but we’d done it all over the phone or on a screen. I’d grown accustomed to Jerome as a text message, and it was somewhat unsettling to have the actual person sliding down the wall to sit next to me. Unsettling, but also a bit thrilling.”
Rory can be as honest about herself, sometimes: “I liked being right, and I liked being powerful, and I liked the way I felt right now.”
As for the end of The Madness Underneath. I’ll be honest: some may call it a cliff-hanger and cry “no.” I like it; the questions raised were answered. That a new question was raised at the end, well, that sometimes happens.
For all these reasons — the plotting, the writing, Rory’s humor, the romance, the mystery — this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.