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?