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The Madness Underneath review

madness underneathThe Madness Underneath (Shades of London Book 2) by Maureen Johnson

March 2013, Harper Collins

Book blurb:

When madness stalks the streets of London, no one is safe…

There’s a creepy new terror haunting modern-day London.
Fresh from defeating a Jack the Ripper killer, Rory must put her new-found hunting skills to the test before all hell breaks loose…

But enemies are not always who you expect them to be and crazy times call for crazy solutions. A thrilling teen mystery.


(WARNING: contains spoilers for The Name of the Star, Shades of London Book 1)

I haven’t read The Name of the Star, the first in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of The Madness Underneath in any way. The action starts with protagonist Rory in therapy, recovering from being stabbed by the Ripper ghost, and Johnson seamlessly weaves in just enough info about the events of the first book so that any reader new to the series is soon brought up to speed. In this latest instalment, American teenager Rory, who is gifted with ‘the sight’ (yup, she can see ghosts), returns to the Wexford school in London and tries to pick up the pieces of her pre-trauma life. Stephen, Callum and Boo, her friends who are all involved in the Shades of London, what can only be called a top secret ghost-busting special police branch, have gone underground. As she tries to make sense of what happened, she discovers a new-found ability (which I’m not going to reveal to you!) and struggles to catch up on her school work when she gets distracted by news of a murder near to Wexford that has all the hallmarks of ghostly involvement. From there on in the plot thickens and it soon becomes clear that there are sinister forces at work – and that’s just in the world of the living.

There was so much that I liked about this book – most of all protagonist Rory. The author has put so much detail into bringing this character to life. I particularly loved her tendency for telling tall tales and talking too much when nervous, and her compassion for the ghosts she meets. Rory is witty and straight-talking with a very distinctive narrative voice – I couldn’t help but warm to her and get swept along by the story. And it was fun viewing London through the eyes of an American from the Deep South. Rory also has a likeable group of friends, like her boyfriend Jerome and roommate Jazza, who all have quirks that make them seem very real. The author is obviously very much in touch with her inner teen and her descriptions of the atmosphere in the build-up to exams are spot on – I can definitely recall the state of ‘exams madness mode’! And a boarding school in exam season, which is basically a pressure cooker of hormonal, stressed teenagers on the edge, works as the perfect backdrop to the uncanny goings-on that Rory begins to unravel.

I also liked that the book had its own peculiar rhythm. Sometimes, while Rory moped around school about failing all her subjects and whether or not to dump her boyfriend, it felt like not much was going on. But then suddenly there would be a flurry of action and threads that had been woven subtly into the quieter moments would come to a head. There is also quite a big surprise at the end, and a cliffhanger that left me wanting more. My only quibble, really, was that the ghosts weren’t quite scary enough – there was plenty of suspense and mystery but not enough scares! I will definitely be reading the next in the series,  though, and will catch up on The Name of the Star at some point and some of her other books too (she’s written ten, including the Scarlett series and 13 Little Blue Envelopes). Why has it taken me until now to discover the wonder that is Maureen Johnson?!

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  1. Susan

     /  April 13, 2013

    I haven’t seen that cover before. Ick. I don’t like it at all. It doesn’t reflect the book very well at all. What actually surprises me most about this series is how lighthearted it is, considering the gruesome/scary subject matter. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it!


    • I concur. Much prefer the alternate version of the cover. The girl on this one looks like she’s been donked on the head with a frying pan or something….

  2. Agree – not keen on the cover either! Thanks for stopping by 🙂


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