Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

I'd been seeing this series mentioned a lot in the last year or so, but I'm not a big mystery reader, so it didn't make it on my list until I saw it mentioned on a list of books that "Downton Abbey" fans ought to read, as it's set in the same era (partly, it's actually largely set in 1929 with flashbacks to the early 1910s). That, combined by a personal recommendation, put it on my radar.

Maisie is a great character. Excessively smart, she gets up very early before the rest of the household, to read in the library for a couple of hours, before she has to start her day as a maid in the house. One day she is busted by the Lord and Lady who actually hadn't yet come home from their evening out, and Lady Rowan takes Maisie's education in hand, partnering with her friend Maurice Blanche to be sure Maisie's learning properly. By 16, she takes the entrance exam for Cambridge and passes. While at school, she makes an eccentric friend, Priscilla, who introduces her to a handsome young doctor, Simon, and inspires her to do something for the Great War.

In 1929, Maisie has finished her apprenticeship with Maurice and embarks on her own, setting up shop as a private investigator. A gentleman suspects his wife of an affair, and Maisie discovers it isn't at all what he thinks but the investigation opens a door to a suspect home for crippled veterans. Lady Rowan's son wants to join this unusual and mysterious group, including signing over all his money to them, so Maisie has two reasons to find out more about The Retreat. Along the way she recalls images and feelings from the past that bring her affair with Simon back to her, and we learn some of the privations and horrors Maisie experienced as a field nurse in France.

Maisie solves the mystery with help from Maurice and Billy, a friendly neighbor and fellow vet, and all is well. Except that you know all isn't well with Maisie. She's not fully recovered from France, from the loss of Simon, and she's investigating in order to be able to put things right, since there are important things in her own life which cannot be righted.

Maisie is from the lower classes (her father is a vegetable seller, turned into a horse groom), but with her smarts and education she manages both to fit in everywhere, and no where. She has a distinctive voice, and in the scenes when she is much younger, the voice very believably is more naive. Maisie's common sense and her devotion to Maurice's lessons, as well as to her beloved Dad, make her an endearing and well-rounded character. I truly enjoyed spending time with her, and looked for the sequel at the library today (checked out.) I hope to be spending more time with Miss Maisie Dobbs in the future.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.


Kristen said...

I started reading this series a few months ago (I just finished the fifth book a few weeks ago), and I really enjoy it. Some of the books are really good, others are just okay. But it does remind me of Downton Abbey, evem as the story progresses through the years.

nomadreader said...

I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed Maisie! I do read a fair number of mysteries, but the mysteries at the center of the Maisie novels are rarely what keeps bringing me back to them. I think of them much more as character-driven historical fiction. I hope you continue to enjoy the series!