Mary’s Book Review: Maisie Dobbs

How Excited Was I To Read This Book? 7. This is a book I picked up a couple years ago after it was recommended through Amazon. How could you not be excited to read a book about a character named Maisie Dobbs?! It’s so British and maybe spinstery but in a totally great way!

Mary’s Book Rating: 10 (really for the whole series). This book (and the series that follows) was very much a ME book. In fact, it started an entire phase for me in which I would seek out mysteries with female detectives set between the two world wars. Not specific at all.

Book Jacket: Hailed by NPR’s Fresh Air as part Testament of Youth, part Dorothy Sayers, and part Upstairs, Downstairs, this astonishing debut has already won fans from coast to coast and is poised to add Maisie Dobbs to the ranks of literature’s favorite sleuths.

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence–and the patronage of her benevolent employers–she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Review: This book is set in London, England 1929. Maisie Dobbs is a wonderful main character. Appropriate to the time and place, she has one foot still firmly placed in the past, specifically her experience as a nurse during the First World War. This experience shaped Maisie, and it also occupies a prominent place in the background of all of these stories. For example in this first book, the mystery begins as a standard investigation into suspected infidelity but quickly morphs into a complicated story about a group of seriously wounded war veterans – and their mysterious ends.

Maisie is an extremely complex character, particularly I would argue for this genre. She straddles two classes: as a young maid in a nobleman’s house, she was taken under her employers’ wing when they discovered her impressive, searching intelligence. Years later, Lady Rowan Compton remains, for lack of a better word, Maisie’s benevolent patroness, but also a savvy and interested advisor and friend.

Maisie employs incredibly thorough idiosyncratic techniques to conduct “discrete investigations.” For example, she will mirror a subject’s posture to discern his or her state of mind. She also meditates in search of answers and creates complicated “case maps” in her unending search for truths.

In this first book, she has just set up her business, taking over a mentor’s practice. She obviously faces obstacles as an independent professional female, but Winspear does not dwell these obstacles. Instead, we get to know Maisie. The mystery unfolds methodically and intelligently, mirroring Maisie’s own style. I loved it, and subsequent books in the series have proved equally good.

I was so impressed by Jacqueline Winspear that I even searched out other books to fit this mold. Other series have charmed and entertained me, but none so smartly as Maisie Dobbs!

Sometimes You Can Tell A Lot About A Book From The First Line: “Even if she hadn’t been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well-turned ankle.”

See? I dare you not to go out and acquire this one immediately!

Recommended for: Mystery fans and those who enjoy historical fiction. Especially those readers with an interest in the First World War.

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