Maisie Dobbs is the first book in the series of the same name by Jacqueline Winspear.
Quick Review (read on for full review)
A well-researched story, peopled with interesting characters. A solid first book in a series. 3.5 / 5
Summary (from back of book)
Fiercely independent Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways.
Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realise the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested. For her first case forces her to uncover secrets long buried, and to confront ghosts from her own past…
There was something healing in this ritual of making a comfortable place for the dead. Her thoughts took her back to France, to the dead and dying, to the devastating wounds that were so often beyond her skill, beyond everyone’s. But it was the wounds of the mind that touched her, those who still fought their battles again and again each day, though the country was at peace.
(Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, page 28)
Hmm…a bit of a mixed review for this one…
First, what I did like:
The setting: The 1920’s is one of my favourite time periods for historical fiction, especially crime stories and cosy mysteries. The author did a great job of bringing the period to life. It’s easy to see how much research went into the book.
The characters: I liked how Maisie came from small beginnings to reach so high in a society where social class is still important. Although it’s nowhere near as solid and structured as it was prior to the First World War, Maisie, thanks to the opportunities she has been granted, can mix with more of the well-to-do than she would otherwise have been able. My favourite character was probably Bill Beale – I liked his attitude.
The storyline: focusing on the mental scars soldiers who survived the First World War had to live with made the story very poignant and emotional. Just because the fighting ended in 1918 didn’t mean that the trauma associated with it immediately ended with it, rather it lingered, greatly effecting the quality of life for many who witnessed the brutality of war. This I thought was handled sensitively and compassionately.
Now for what I didn’t like:
The investigation was interrupted by a lengthy break to accommodate Maisie’s backstory. Lasting over one hundred pages (if I recall correctly), I felt it disturbed the flow of the story, to the extent that I had trouble bringing the case details to mind when we finally returned to it. These pages read as a separate story, and although there was a link between both narratives, it was just…jarring.
And, I know Maurice Blanche was Maisie’s mentor, but I thought it repetitive how she kept saying, “Maurice said…” as she set about illustrating all the things she had learnt under his tuition.
So that is why I rated this book 3.5. It’s not that I didn’t like the story or the characters – I did. So much so that I’ve already bought nearly the rest of the series, so I will be reading more. However, at this moment, there are other books, which are a little similar in setting – England in the 1920s – that I am enjoying more (Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple books and Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series). That being said, with Maisie’s backstory out of the way in book one, I anticipate having an easier, and hopefully more enjoyable time with book two, Birds of a Feather.
Have you read Maisie Dobbs? Did you have the same difficulty with it as me? Have you read book two in the series? Am I right in thinking I’ll get on better with it?