on June 12, 2003
While "Maisie Dobbs" has been categorized as a novel/mystery, the book actually reads more like a novel (even though there is a mystery at hand, and our heroine is a detective) than it does a 'straight' mystery novel. But this did not stop me from enjoying the book at all.
Once Maisie Dobbs was a domestic servant with little expectation of anything else aside from rising within the ranks. However, thanks to the sponsorship of her employer, Lady Rowan Compton, who quickly realised that there was something really special about the thirteen year old, Maisie was given an education. Now, Maisie is a young woman and eager to make her mark; and thanks to the tutorship of Lady Rowan's good friend, Maurice Blanche (a renowned detective himself), Maisie is ready to embark on her first case. Unfortunately, it looks as if her first case is going to be a case of marital infidelity: Mr. Davenham suspects that his much younger wife, Celia, is having an affair; and he wants Maisie to either confirm his worst fears or else refute them. Little does Mr. Davenham realise, however, that Maisie is no ordinary detective. A highly intuitive and empathic young woman, Maisie senses Mr. Davenham's anguish over his wife's alleged infidelity and is resolved to help the Davenhams repair their strained marital bond. Her investigation however leads her to a graveyard, and to a grave marked only with a simple tombstone and a name -- Vincent. A casual search turns up other graves -- all memorialized with tombstones and first names only. Something about the whole thing awakens Maisie's misgivings, and trusting her instincts she decides to widen her investigation, never dreaming just how much this investigation will affect her...
"Maisie Dobbs" is divided into three sections: the first section deals with Maisie's initial investigation of Celia and what she's up to, and this section does read very much like a mystery novel; the second section deals with how Maisie came to be noticed by Lady Rowan, her education, and her war experiences -- this third of the book however reads more like a novel; the last section of the book again deals with the mystery of the mysterious tombstones, and the resolution of this mystery. While "Maisie Dobbs" proved to be a good and easy read, complete with an intriguing storyline and an intelligent and likable heroine, I must admit that the book was not that much of a suspenseful read. Because the novel does rely a little heavily on Maisie's intuitive powers, there are practically no unexpected plot twists or red herring suspects. (And truly, "Maisie Dobbs" was more about how, even almost an entire decade after the war, people were still coming to terms with the horror and grief that war entails). So that while I'm not exactly sure just how successful this plot device of having an empathic detecting heroine will be, I will admit that "Maisie Dobbs" proved to be a very enjoyable read.
Never much of a mystery reader, in the last number of years I have been introduced to two wonderful female detectives of sorts. One was Fremont Jones, a private detective based in San Francisco at the turn of the century and the heroine of a series written by Dianne Day. The other was Mma Ramotswe from the Alexander McCall Smith mystery series set in Botswana, Africa. While I enjoyed the mystery angles of both series, it was the women and their personalities, the geographical areas where they lived and the historical times which intrigued me so greatly. And as much as I loved these books, I remember thinking that I most likely would never find another female character from this genre who would appeal to me in quite the same way. But then I didn't know that very shortly I would meet up with the most intriguing character of all, one Maisie Dobbs from the book with the same title by Jacqueline Winspear. And as I said in the title of this review, I just know this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1929 when she is moving into her first office in London. A private detective, Maisie has been tutored and apprenticed by a Dr. Maurice Blanche who is highly regarded in London's social circles.
Her first case seems rather ordinary when a man suspects his wife of cheating on him. Following the woman in question, Maisie finds a lady mourning a childhood friend killed during W.W.I. But more than that Maisie also uncovers a rather sinister plot involving a farmhouse used as a retreat for men unable to rejoin society. Called the Retreat it holds the answer to why certain war heroes met untimely deaths while living at the Retreat.
While this book is considered a misery it almost takes a back seat to the main character for as we turn the pages we learn more and more about Maisie and her circumstances. In a series of flashbacks we first meet Maisie at 13 when her mother has died and her father, a costermonger, has no money left for Maisie's education due to the medical expenses for his wife. Maisie's father then finds a job for her as a scullery maid in the home of Lady Compton, a wealthy woman and suffragette. While working in this large London home, Maisie soon finds a wonderful library which appeals to her sense of learning. When she is found there one night by her employer while poring over a book, Lady Compton arranges for Maisie to be tutored over a period of years, then paying for her to attend Girton, the women's school from Cambridge. But then war intervenes and the book takes a different turn as Maisie faces World War I working as a field nurse and learns about both the joys and sorrows of a first love.
I so enjoyed this book that I literally gulped it down. I found that Ms. Winspear offered her readers a wonderful glimpse into the world of London before, during and after W.W.I. From the drawing rooms of the wealthy homes to the life of a young nurse, I felt as though I was in London during these times, not reading in the year 2005. But more than anything I love learning about Maisie's life which was also laid out as a misery till the final pages revealed an important piece of the puzzle.
I must say that I might never have read this book had it not been for the recommendation of a dear online friend. So not only do I thank Ms, Winspear for writing this book, I also thank my friend for reading this and passing along the recommendation. And now that I've finished Maisie Dobbs I can't wait to read the second book in this series, Birds of a Feather. I only hope that the next book will be as good as the first one. Something tells me it will be. And then I will anxiously wait for the next book by this talented and gifted author.
Fans of Maisie Dobbs will delight in this addition to the series, and those who are new to her have a treat in store. All these mysteries take place in the aftermath of World War I, this one occurring between September and October, 1930. Maisie is a survivor, having enlisted, at seventeen, in the nursing corps, where she served in France in the final, horrific days of the war. A terrible attack, which killed many of the doctors, nurses, and soldiers where she was working, has left her suffering nightmares more than ten years later. Now working as a psychologist/investigator in London, Maisie stays busy to avoid dealing with her demons.
Three mysteries unfold simultaneously. Avril Jarvis, age 13, is arrested for the murder of her "uncle" when she is found with a knife in her hand and blood on her clothes. Penniless, she has no counsel until Maisie takes a case involving Sir Cecil Lawton, whom she persuades to represent Avril as part of her fee. Sir Cecil's son Ralph disappeared during the war in France, and his wife, believing him still alive, has exacted a deathbed promise that Sir Cecil will search for him. In addition, one of Maisie's friends from the Ambulance Corps, now married to a wealthy author in France, has begged her to try to find where the third of her brothers died and was buried in France.
The horrors of World War I pervade the novel, and when Maisie goes to France, these horrors come alive, for both the reader and for Maisie, as she learns she must "slay her dragons" at last. Intriguing characters add color to the novel--a doctor who has been with the secret service, a psychic who knows too much about Maisie, a paralyzed member of Parliament who was a close friend of Ralph Lawton, and an elegant woman and her granddaughter who live in a decaying castle.
As the mysteries develop, a plethora of key photographs, kept by numerous characters, connect some of the characters with specific times and places. Romantic elements, such as a secret passageway leading to a musty room, a hidden journal written in code, assumed identities, an important clue buried under a tree, and several attacks on Maisie keep the action moving. Physical details of clothing, social customs, and landscape give a sense of realism to this mystery, with all its coincidences, and there is just enough danger to sustain the tension in this well written and unusual addition to the genre. n Mary Whipple
By rights, I'm just the right reader for this book: I love mysteries (especially British ones), I find WWI fascinating, I find the interwar era and the whole "upstairs-downstairs" British class stuff interesting. And yet...while mildly diverting and obviously well-researched, this first book in a series about a plucky young female investigator/psychologist really didn't work for me. It's written as if the intended readership were 10-14 year-old girls, which is fine, but as an adult, it's hard to find Nancy Drewish escapades of a flawless heroine all that fulfilling.
The framework is a little unconventional (though not the disaster some reviewers make it out to be): the first part of the book introduces us to 20something Maisie Dobbs, just opening her business in London. Her first case is a classic assignment: a man who is worried his wife is cheating on him wants Maisie to check into it. As her investigation unfolds there are allusions to Maisie's past and a mysterious mentor, but nothing is spelled out. Suddenly, the story drifts back in time to 1910 or so, and we are reintroduced to a younger Maisie as she enters service as a housemaid for an aristocratic family. We follow dutifully along as her employers discover her reading Latin in the library and extend their patronage, allowing her to be tutored by their strange friend (and apparent spy) Maurice, and eventually supporting her bid to go to Cambridge (Girton College). Despite success at school, when World War I starts, she decides to join the Red Cross, and eventually serves as a nurse in France, where she witnesses the horror of war.
The final third of the book then shifts back the the postwar era, and Maisie's patron asks her help in a family matter. This all dovetails with her earlier case, as well as the war and the scars (psychic and physical) left by the war. The mystery isn't substantial enough to satisfy most fans of the genre, and anyone with any discernment is going to find the climax painfully bad. (All I'll say is that involves singing...) As a detective, Maisie isn't particularly compelling -- her technique is a mix of keen observation and psychology. However, she's even less compelling as a character. Maisie's one of those plucky underdogs designed to provoke maximum reader projection: born into semi-poverty, raised by single father, highly intelligent, uncommonly perceptive, always composed, humble, beloved by all, and possessing big violet eyes. She's the kind of character everyone likes to imagine they would be, had they lived in that time and been born into those circumstances. The supporting cast is fairly pat: vegetable-seller father (with a heart of gold), feisty upper-class patroness (with a heart of gold), prim butler (with a heart of gold), plump cook (with a heart of gold), Cockney handyman/sidekick (with a heart of gold), etc...
The book isn't bad (except for the climax, which is terrible), it's just not very satisfying for adult readers looking for complex characters and a meaty plot. It suffers from feeling very much like a book designed to establish setting and characters for a series. I may read onward in the series (the next two are Birds of a Feather and Pardonable Lies), but may wait for the inevitable BBC TV series this will spawn.
on August 9, 2005
Mystery fans who have not yet discovered Maisie Dobbs would be well advised to correct that oversight! This author's writing is first rate and Maisie Dobbs is a deliciously detailed heroine.
In the Fall of 1930, London is mired in economic Depression. And England's citizens have never quite recovered from World War I, including Maisie Dobbs. She still struggles with her experiences as a nurse at the Front. The man she loved in wartime is little more than a vegetable confined to a
wheelchair. And her mother's untimely death haunts Maisie's thoughts, asleep or awake. Still, her work as an Investigator / Psychologist keeps her focused and busy as she pursues a cautious relationship with a devoted admirer, Dr. Andrew Dene. Maisie Dobbs is plucky, determined, and has
become a skillful investigator in her own right. She'll need every ounce of courage and skill she possesses to survive the case that unexpectedly presents itself.
Sir Cecil Lawton QC is a legal miracle worker and one of the great orators of his time. He promises his wife on her death bed to search for proof of their son Ralph's death. Sir Cecil hires Maisie to investigate the fiery airplane crash in France to prove Ralph dead. In exchange, Maisie agrees to halve her fee if Sir Cecil will defend an innocent, imprisoned girl awaiting trial for murder. While Maisie follows one intriguing lead after another in her search for evidence of Ralph Lawton's death, her assistant Billy Beale seeks information to bolster her belief that an innocent girl has been wrongly accused of murder.
To complicate the investigation into Ralph Lawton's death, long time friend Priscilla begs Maisie to find information about her brother Peter. Soon, Maisie's educated hunches and focused search for clues lead her to believe that the disappearance of both men is related. After several attempts on her life, Maisie is convinced that someone powerful wishes to prevent a firm conclusion of her investigation. The list of suspects is painful to contemplate because it includes her old friend and mentor, Maurice Blanche. Why would investigating the death of two brave soldiers lost to war move anyone to kill her? Once Maisie ties up all loose ends to her investigation, the truth is shocking and poignant. Should she reveal the utter truth, or are a few "pardonable lies" in order?
This book is a delightful read in every way. It's a crackerjack mystery, written by a skillful writer. The characters seemed like real people; they were that well-developed and appealing. Winspear creates an interesting and
believable milieu for her characters and provides fascinating details of the era following World War I. Such details add to, and do not in any way detract from, the mystery and plot development. I applaud Ms. Winspear and her intriguing heroine. The possibilities for this series are endless, and
wonderful to contemplate.
on August 3, 2005
Maisie Dobbs is a gentle, independent woman living in post World War I England. Like many other women of her time, she served as a nurse in the war, doing what she could for her country. She saw men experience the physical and psychological effects of battle and never be quite whole again. She saw her friends' families suffer shock and loss as they received telegrams about their sons, husbands and fathers.
Maisie, too, is scarred by the war. She dreams of blood and dying men. She is haunted by the fate of her ex-lover who is too shell shocked to recognize her. In this book, Maisie must face some of the demons in her past.
While assisting the police in the interrogation of a young girl accused of murder, Maisie is approached by a client who is required to fulfill the terms of his deceased wife's last wishes. The client asks Maisie to find his son, who was lost in the war, that his wife believed was still alive. The client, however, wants to prove that his son is deceased. To do this, Maisie will have to go to France and re-live some of her memories of the war. When she talks to her best friend, Priscilla, about her upcoming travels, she asks Maisie to see if she can find out exactly what happened to her brother, Peter, since Maisie is already doing one investigation in the area. She reluctantly agrees to take on both cases.
As the investigations progress, it is clear that someone doesn't want Maisie to complete at least one of her cases. Maisie is in danger, but it isn't clear which case is the cause of the threats on her life. As she digs deeper into all of them, she finds that nothing is quite what it appears to be. War can be the catalyst for subterfuge in even the closest of relationships.
World War I brought new opportunities for employment and self-improvement for many women who needed to fill roles previously held by the men lost in battle. The author does an excellent job of portraying what life was like during an era that was full of pain even as it held new opportunities. Maisie is a warmhearted, likeable character who takes a humanistic approach to problem solving.
This book is highly recommended for anyone who likes mysteries with an intelligent, insightful protagonist and historically accurate atmosphere.
on April 27, 2012
Right from the start, I must confess to enjoying a good mystery. I will read almost any type as long as it is not uber-violent and/or sadistic (the news provides enough of these types). If an author throws in an interesting time period (Medieval England, pre-Revolution Russia) or historical characters, well then I am hooked! So reading the reviews for Maisie Dobbs, the beginning of a new mystery series, it seemed perfect. Set in the years after World War I in England, I was looking forward to a satisfying read. And at first, I must admit, I enjoyed the book but within fifty pages, I became seriously annoyed. After one hundred pages, the annoyance grew and by the last twenty pages annoyance turned to disbelief. I finished the book and re-read the glowing reviews and tried to find out what soured me on a book which so many others seemed to enjoy.
In one word, it was Maisie Dobbs herself. When I was younger, the idea of an "ideal" character was somewhat appealing. However, as I grew older and realized that even Gandhi must have had some flaws, I can no longer abide a perfect character in a novel. And Maisie is perfect. Absolutely, 100% perfect. And everybody loves her. Every single character she interacts with is willing to do almost anything for Maisie. No one tells her no, no one impedes her objectives in any way. As a matter of fact, every character exists solely to help Maisie achieve her goals. Does she help some along the way? Perhaps, but Maisie's smug satisfaction of doing so brings Maisie the most happiness.
As an introductory book to a new series, I expected a lot of character development and perhaps a little less on the mystery at hand. But this was ridiculous...there didn't seem to be a mystery. There was so little to solve and the reveal at the end of the book is one of the most annoying I have read in a long time. Because when Maisie explains how she knew what was going on, you learn all this work she did that was never revealed to the reader. And the only character developed was Maisie. The villain of the story? If he appeared on five pages of the book, I would be surprised. The denouncement? Ludicrous. The final chapter? If I had not been reading the e-book version, I would thrown it across the room.
on July 12, 2003
This book is really a mixture of a novel and mystery. Masie Dobbs is a bright girl born to a low station in pre-World War One London who is given the opportunity of to educate herself and eventually becomes a private investigator. The story of Masie's life takes up as much of the book as the case she is working on. Masie's love of books and learning and her determination to fulfill her dreams are captivating. Equally touching is the profound change that occurs in her priorites once the war breaks out. The book is permeated with the Great War and its aftermath, and the author writes very movingly about the staggering loss that seems to have left no family untouched. It's not a traditional suspense yarn, but a truly rewarding read.
on October 8, 2004
Brash statement, huh?
I am an inveterate reader of mysteries (wrote a few myself) and I am greatly disappointed in most writers, except Colin Dexter (not writing any more) Reginald Hill (still the Master) and Dennis Lehane (too changeable, suddenly but with the sharpest typewriter among American Mystery authors).
It is great to pick up a book and from the first sentence get an a prickly feeling, this is it!
Yes, it is fantasy (no, not SF)with a very short list of characters-the entire book is half what the usual overwriters produce today- with great punch and depth. One does not have to write pages to convey what a character feels. Maisie is 14 when her mother dies and her father, another fairy tale character, takes loving care of her. And Lady Rowan, and Maurice Blanche. The midnight reading of the great books in the library, and still get up early morning to do the chores, the feeling of inevitable success are all conveyed in short incidents.
There are three parts to the story: a short beginning with a whimsical mystery about a suspicious husband, and Maisie establishes her pro-feminine character in no uncertain way (shades of Cordelia Gray). The second and the most moving part, exqusitely written, is an Upstairs Downstairs story that culminates in the Great War, and unlike Bulldog Drummond, portrays an honest and perhaps the best short poignant description of the sufferings put between covers. The third part is another investigation, this time directly the result of the war.
You finish the book with a great sigh of satisfaction. Writing like this has not been in print since Ms. Dorothy L Sayers.
Good luck, Ms. Winspear! I am holding on to the next book for a nice Indian Summer weekend, to enjoy.
This sensitively written first novel is being marketed as a mystery, but that's only part of it -- and the lesser part, in my opinion. It's 1929 and 33-year-old Maisie Dobbs, daughter of a London costermonger, is hanging out our shingle as what amounts to a "consulting detective" somewhat in the Holmesian style. She's certainly not a gumshoe. Though she started out as a maid-of-all-work in a big townhouse, her natural intelligence and intuitive talents, combined with her mistress's desire to do some good in the Edwardian era, result in her private education by Maurice Blanche, an old friend of Lady Rowan who becomes her mentor. Then she goes off to a women's college at Cambridge, until the Great War interferes. And that, in fact, is the center of this novel: The War. What it did to an entire generation of young English men and women and to their families, and the effects it had on English society even a dozen years later. Both Winspear's own grandfathers served and she has a strong feeling for the subject, but that may actually prove to be a problem for later books in the series of which this is the first. If you remove all the backstory about Maisie's upbringing and experiences as a nurse at the front, the actual "mystery" -- which involves skullduggery at a Kentish retreat for wounded and disfigured soldiers -- is a little thin. And Maisie is sometimes a bit *too* good, as are her friends and the love of her life, Capt. Simon Lynch of the Royal Army Medical Corps. But it's a compelling piece of work, and I'll be very interested to see if the author can keep it up.