The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker (The Golden City Book 6)

Written by A. B. Michaels
Review by G. J. Berger

In May 1907, the Whittaker family ends its religious mission to Panama. Albert St. John Whittaker II (“Sinjun”) dies of malaria on the ship home. His wife, Mae, and six-year-old son, Liam, accompany the body to San Francisco and Sinjun’s wealthy widowed mother, Ida, and his sister, Claire.

In his last days, Sinjun expresses an interest in the Spiritualism movement and its ritualized group meetings to help participants communicate with the dead. Claire and Ida persuade Mae to join one such local group. The meetings strike Mae as bizarre, even frightening. She secretly plans to flee the Whittakers, perhaps to Indiana where an aunt would welcome her and Liam.

Before Mae can leave, officers of the law, with a judge-signed warrant in hand, force her into an insane asylum. There, the staff range from tolerable to truly mad. The supervising doctor is a serial rapist and hustles his victims off to a nearby hospital for tubal ligations. Mae suffers a range of indignities, while scheming every moment on how to escape and reunite with Liam.

The novel effectively portrays the then popular Spiritualism cults and the asylums filled with unwanted relatives of wealthy families. The intense plot will have readers wanting to learn if Mae survives, if she escapes the Whittaker family’s clasp and finds Liam, and why someone wanted to confine her to begin with. The answers to those and related questions unfold in interesting ways. However, discerning readers may notice phone calls are made too routinely and easily and people travel too smoothly for that time and place. Jarring point-of-view jumps and court proceedings that ignore established rules further distract from an engaging story.