sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 31, 2011

into the stacks: maisie dobbs
posted by soe 2:00 am

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

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.

Jacqueline Winspear at Politics and Prose

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.

Pages: 294

Category: books. There is/are 1 Comment.

Well that’s just weird about the show. Very weird.

I loved Maisie Dobbs! I’ve read the first 2 books, and have the third here to read. Hopefully soon. I’m at the same spot in the Thursday Next series. Arggh, too many books to try to read!

Comment by raidergirl3 05.31.11 @ 3:16 pm