‘A Cure For Madness’ by Jodi McIsaac

Clare Campbell has worked hard to create distance between herself and her troubled family. But when she receives news of her parents’ murder, she’s forced to return to the quiet town of Clarkeston, Maine, to arrange their funeral and take legal guardianship of her unpredictable and mentally ill brother, Wes.

While Clare struggles to come to grips with the death of her parents, a terrifying pathogen outbreak overtakes the town. She is all too familiar with the resulting symptoms, which resemble those of her brother’s schizophrenia: hallucinations, paranoia, and bizarre, even violent, behavior. Before long, the government steps in – and one agent takes a special interest in Wes. Clare must make a horrifying decision: save her brother or save the world

‘A Cure For Madness’ is a hard to label book because it refuses to follow along the well-worn path of thrillers about pandemics. There is a pandemic and a very scary one at that: extremely contagious, incurable and vaccine-proof, it destroys the minds of the infected but doesn’t kill them. There are also threatening government authority figures who appear to have something to hide and who are ruthless in the pursuit of the mentally ill brother of our heroine, Clare Campbell. Yet the primary focus isn’t on the end of the world as we know it or even on the salient efforts of scientists to save everyone, it’s on the moral dilemma faced by Clare Campbell, who is presented with a choice of protecting her brother or saving the world.

What I liked most about the book was that it didn’t try to make things easy for Clare or for the reader. The bad guys were trying to do the right thing. The good guys were unstable, anti-social and sometimes violent. None of the choices was good. No magic bullets were available.

In addition to the usual challenges of trying to decide whether the greatest good of the greatest number over-rides personal and familial loyalty, ‘A Cure For Madness’ added in significant personal challenges for Clare. Her older brother, Wes, the man she has to decide whether to save, suffers from schizophrenia. Jodi McIsaac takes an unflinching look at what that means: the delusions, the paranoia, the sudden violence and then the reversion to ‘normal’ and all the associated apologies. I like that Wes comes across as a person and not just as the disease that sometimes drives his actions. Given that a form of schizophrenia now seems to have become highly contagious, seeing Wes as a person provides a context for what is happening to everyone else.

Claire isn’t one of those kick-ass heroines with experience of working in war zones and a handy PhD in epidemiology. She’s a woman who, as a teen, suffered a severe trauma in her home town and left it determined never to come back. She’s intelligent and well-travelled but she’s spent more than a decade running away from her hometown and her mentally ill big brother. This background means is bright enough to work out what’s going on, attached enough / guilty enough about her big brother to feel both obligated and resentful at being obligated and her experience has taught her that running away doesn’t banish the problem you ran from.

I loved the rigorous way challenges in this book were set up and I was impressed and surprised by the solution that Claire finally arrived at.

There were some things in the book that didn’t work so well for me. I thought the pace was a little uneven. The romance/sex scene seemed not to fit easily into the flow of the story or the development of the characters.

But I found most of the book very engaging albeit in quite a grim way.

I can see that some people might find the ending, especially the last chapter, a little difficult. Personally, i liked it It needs to be read with care. Like the rest of the book, it’s told from Clare’s point of view but, in this chapter at least, Clare is not necessarily a reliable narrator.

I listened to the audiobook version of ‘A Cure For Madness’. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

Jodi McIsaac is a Canadian writer, based out of Calgary.
In addition to running her own copywriting agent, she has published six novels, a novella and a book or short stories.

Most of her books are set in Ireland and combine contemporary settings with elements of time travel or Celtic fantasy. She is best known for the ‘Thin Veil’ books, about a six-year-old girl who can open a door to Tír na nÓg

‘A Cure For Madness’ is the letter A in my TBR ABC Challenge.

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