From the jacket: “The daughter of a struggling greengrocer, Maisie Dobbs was only thirteen when she was sent to work as a maid for wealthy London aristocrats. But being bright and thoughtful beyond her years, Maisie studies her way to Cambridge, then serves as a nurse on the Front during the Great War. Now, it’s the spring of 1929, nearly ten years after the Armistice, and Maisie has just opened up her own detective agency. Her first assignment, a seemingly open-and-shut infidelity case, will reveal a much deeper, darker mystery, forcing Maisie to revisit the horrors of the war and the ghost she left behind.”
My take: How I came to this mystery is a bit of a mystery itself. Rudi and I will tell you that about four years ago we watched one in a handful of Masterpiece episodes featuring a female sleuth in London in the 1920s/’30s. It was well done and I traced it to a series of books by Jacqueline Winspear. Thing is, though, PBS and the BBC haven’t made such a series. There apparently was a tv series, but there’s only a whisper or two about it on the internet. No entry exists on IMDB. If Rudi didn’t remember watching it, too, (and if the end of the episode didn’t match the end of one of the books — I peeked to verify) I would swear I’d made the whole thing up, dreaming something based on a book review.
Anyway, the reason I finally picked the book up is when I went to pick up my copy of the newest Thursday Next novel at Politics and Prose, an author was giving the store’s daily reading. I didn’t really pay attention, focusing instead on tracking down another book I was after, so it didn’t sink in who she was until I caught her say something about “Maisie.” Oh! I turned around, tuned in, and walked right over to buy the first book in the series to get signed.
Maisie Dobbs tells the story of a young woman in London in 1929 who has just set up a detective agency with the blessing and support of her patron, Lady Rowan, and her mentor, Maurice Blanche. Her detective agency is not the usual sort, however, as she will not take a job and provide results without comment or concern for how that information will be used. If you want “just the facts,” then you’d be better off finding yourself a different detective. Maisie is a holistic detective and will only take the job if she feels you are inclined to hear her out at the end. She brings with her to the job not just the dedication, attention to detail, and reasoning you expect from any sleuth worth their salt, but also elements of psychology and physiology, as well as a quick intellect. She routinely mimics the stance of those she’s observing in order to better understand their emotions. And she finds little ways to leave people feeling better after sharing difficult moments with her.
In this book, Maisie’s first real case is an easy commission to find out if a wealthy man’s wife is cheating on him. She finds not just the answer, but also a second mystery — one involving disfigured World War I veterans and a mysterious commune — that turns out to be of great importance to Lady Rowan.
The book continues from here in two parallel veins. We get flashbacks of Maisie’s back story, from the time the motherless girl is placed by her father in Lady Rowan’s service at age 13, through her tutelage with Maurice, into her years at Cambridge, and finally landing in the muds of France as a field nurse.
At the same time, the narrative moves forward with Maisie, with the help of local handyman, Billy Beale, investigating The Retreat. It’s a commune created by and for gravely injured World War I veterans who have difficulty coping in the real world for one reason or another. But there have been some deaths of residents in recent years and there’s also the question of the money that’s deposited by incoming residents into the programs coffers. Is this a legitimate communal sanctuary for badly scarred men or is it a scam? And can Maisie adequately investigate this mystery without raising her own ghosts from the War?
Winspear offers an engaging and unusual heroine in this series and has an uncanny eye for detail, which helps to bring scenes to life as you read the words. I wholeheartedly recommend this for all mystery lovers and fans of literary fiction.
I’m here still. I’m struggling with a book review for a book I really liked but seem to be at a loss to describe why, so it will appear shortly because it’s holding up other reviews for things I’ve read more recently.
I’ve been working on reknitting the second leg of my Bastille Day socks. I ripped back to the heel and got the stitches back on the needle okay, then discovered after a few inches of knitting the correct pattern on the back of the leg, that the yarn was still pooling unattractively. I was stuck on the idea that not knitting the second leg on the same needle as the first must be the problem, but couldn’t figure out why it should matter as much as it did.
Yesterday I found myself idly thinking about how my US1 needles had become my default pair when it used to be US2.5. And that’s when it hit me. In the three years since I knit the first sock, I’ve become a more confident lace knitter, causing my tension to become looser. So while a US2 had been necessary back when I knit the first sock, perhaps it was no longer the correct answer. I slipped the sock from its dpns to waste yarn so I could try it on and discovered that the new leg was much looser than the old one.
I ripped back yet again last night and put the stitches back on a set of US1.5s. Two inches up the leg and I can see that we finally have a winner. No pooling. Correct patterning. We might get a finished pair yet!
I thought a good way to start the three day weekend would be to finish one of the pairs of socks lingering on my needles. Since Sock Madness is hours away from completion, I thought it would be cool to get the pair I was working on when I was eliminated from competition off my pointy sticks before one of the four knitters currently sparring for world domination finishes her final pair (at least three pairs past mine).
The fastest of the competitors knit this pair of socks in roughly a day. Mine took me a month. (Admittedly, for much of the last three weeks, they’ve just been sitting in a project bag on my desk.)
It’s been a kind of up and down week, but I think the ups are winning. Here are three of the beautiful moments from the past week:
1. On Monday afternoon, I skipped out of work early to catch author Michael Scott’s appearance up at Politics & Prose. Although I missed his talk and reading, I did catch most of the q&a, where he answered kids’ questions about The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. With his lilting Irish accent and quiet demeanor, he gave thoughtful replies to questions ranging from how to become an author (read all sorts of books, write every day, know most of your early writing will be terrible, force yourself to finish, and find a comfortable chair because you’re going to be sitting an awful lot) to the origins of some of his lesser known mythologicallybased characters (he draws from South America and Ireland, as well as more traditional Latin, Greek, Norse, and Egyptian sources). When the bookstore employee tasked with keeping him on schedule so he wouldn’t miss his train back to New York shut down the question period, Michael encouraged anyone who hadn’t had a chance to ask something to bring it up when they got their book signed. He chatted with everyone in line and seemed to remember several fans from previous visits, including an excited teenage football player. (And, yes, I do have a shiny (literally), signed copy of The Warlock to read this weekend when Rudi’s off on his cycling holiday.)
2. Passing through a dark park with a mirror-like reflecting pool, Rudi realizes the last duck at the sidewalk’s edge is perched over her fluffy baby ducklings, keeping them safe from predators and chatty pedestrians. The ducklings want to know why their sleep is being disturbed, so after a few minutes of night birdwatching, we move along.
3. A baby new to walking has squeakers in her shoes, so she beeps with every rapid, toddling step she takes on the sidewalk.
And this was so crazily beautiful it needed the distinction of being a rare fourth beautiful thing:
4. As I mentioned on Monday, last night we went to DAR Constitution Hall to see Paul Simon perform. What a joyful show! The band worked well together, the show as a whole had what I think of as an upbeat New Orleans vibe (mind you, that’s without ever having been to New Orleans), the audience was dancing in the aisles, and Paul himself seemed to be having a great time, shaking audience members’ hands each time he left the stage. Plus, Paul sang some great songs (including “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” (we almost called, Mum and Dad, but we were holding out for a song that didn’t end up getting played, “Only Living Boy in New York” (we nearly called you, Rebs), and “Here Comes the Sun”). And then, just when you were thinking, what a great, well-oiled concert, he missed his cue to come in on a song. A fan up front must not have, though, because all of a sudden, Paul was motioning him up on stage to come and sing “Gumboots” with him. The two of them had a blast performing together and the audience just went wild. It was just one of those moments where you’re lucky to be in the room.
This is the best of the videos that have surfaced thus far. None is complete, but this catches the event earlier on than the rest, even if the camera work is a bit shaky at the beginning:
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
Rudi and I head to see Paul Simon perform at the DAR Constitution Hall this week, so I thought I’d share three of my favorite songs of his.
With my new music player, I headed off to college with a single cd — Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. “American Tune” was my favorite song off that album.
And three years later, another Paul Simon tune would inspire some of my favorite senior year moments. A freshman in the dorm, Brian, discovered I had borrowed a copy of Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits (from Rudi or from Rebs, I don’t remember whom, at the moment) and would stop by to hover in my doorway and talk folk music. I found out he played guitar — sometimes in the stairwell — and sometimes in the dorm living room. We chatted and found we shared a common appreciation for a number of artists, including Paul. “Mother and Child Reunion” is, I believe, the first song off that album, and the one I associate with Brian.
That blossoming friendship with Brian combined with Rudi’s ability to play guitar led to a number of all-night singalongs, with groups of us crowded into one dorm room or another to play music and sing. Brian’s only rule is that you had to sing, no matter your ability. “Me and Julio” was our best number. Eric provided the whistling and Brian and Rudi always managed to end the final strum in synch.
This post could honestly just go on and on. I could add “Cecilia” or “The Boxer” or “Homeward Bound” or “The 59th Street Bridge Song” just as easily.
Time is speeding past me faster than I write posts, which means I’m always behind on what I want to be talking about. (That might be a universal truth to be overcome…)
Two weeks ago now, Sarah, Rudi, and I headed up to Howard County for my annual foray to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. We arrived in the early afternoon and after enjoying a quick bite, headed off to see the sites:
There were sheep:
There were alpacas:
There was wool:
So much, in fact, that it took us all afternoon to traverse the festival grounds and there were still sections we missed.
There were lots of knitters, too, (hi, Mikaiya!) but I didn’t take any pictures of them either nor of Sarah or Rudi, for that matter. It was that kind of overwhelming afternoon.
But I did find some pretty things, as did Sarah.
This is my haul (and the silvery glimpse of a very interested party):
The needles are size 0 Darn Pretty Needles. Rudi gave me (via his mom) US2s a couple Christmases ago and they remain the only needles I have not warped out of shape, making them a clear favorite for dpns. Plus, they really are quite attractive, in their green, multi-hued wood.
The yarn buying was slightly restrained right up until the last five minutes of the festival when I found two skeins I couldn’t choose between and broke the tie by buying both. (I know…) In the middle are two skeins of Gypsy Girl transitions sock yarn in Summer Solstice that I picked up early on because the shifts between colors in the stall samples were gorgeous. And the other two are MarigoldJen blue faced Leicester dk weight. The top is Silver Maple and the bottom is Levi, and I suspect both will go toward making lovely hats unless someone has another suggestion. The photo doesn’t do either sufficient justice to the gorgeous dye job.
Even Rudi ended up with something. A few months back, just before Della died, I accidentally broke Rudi’s favorite mug, the one he drank coffee from nearly every day and that had that magical combination of color, shape, and heft — and that we picked up on one of our favorite vacations ever. Although we checked the potter’s website, he didn’t have anything that seemed perfect, leaving Rudi disappointed and me feeling terrible.
So when Rudi decided to forgo his bike ride to tag along with Sarah and me, I hoped we could find him something he’d like. And so far he seems to. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s good enough until we find perfect someday down the road.
A sage plant purchase as we departed followed by a quick picnic of fried dough just outside the festival gates (about ten minutes after the closing announcement came over the loudspeaker), and we were done. We headed south back to D.C., content to knit (in Sarah’s and my case) and drive (in Rudi’s case) and sing along with the music after a lovely spring afternoon.
Hey there! It’s Thursday night, which means it’s time to review three of the beautiful things from the previous week:
1. Between storms, pastel clouds dash across the sky as if late to an Impressionist’s canvas.
2. We cook out for Rudi’s birthday party, and he and I tend the grill on the breezy evening. Our hair smells pleasantly of campfire smoke all night.
3. We head to the Thai embassy for the afternoon, where they entertain us with feats of skill and delicious food. Rudi eats a papaya salad and I opt, at his suggestion, for mango sticky rice. Did you know they make it sticky with coconut milk? Yum!
How about you? What was beautiful in your life last week?