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Maisie Dobbs (Book 1) Paperback – May 25, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 1,320 customer reviews
Book 1 of 12 in the Maisie Dobbs Series

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Spring 1929

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. She had what his old mother would have called "bearing." A way of walking, with her shoulders back and head held high, as she pulled on her black gloves while managing to hold on to a somewhat battered black document case.

"Old money," muttered Jack to himself. "Stuck-up piece of nonsense."

Jack expected the woman to pass him by, so he stamped his feet in a vain attempt to banish the sharp needles of cold creeping up through his hobnailed boots. He fanned a half dozen copies of the Daily Express over one arm, anticipating a taxi-cab screeching to a halt and a hand reaching out with the requisite coins.

"Oh, stop — may I have an Express please, love?" appealed a voice as smooth as spooned treacle.

The newspaper vendor looked up slowly, straight into the eys the color of midnight in summer, an intense shade that seemed to him to be darker than blue. She held out her money.

"O' course, Miss, 'ere you are. Bit nippy this morning, innit?"

She smiled, and as she took the paper from him before turning to walk away, she replied, "Not half. It's brass monkey weather; better get yourself a nice cuppa before too long."

Jack couldn't have told you why he watched the woman walk all the way down Warren Street toward Fitzroy Square. But he did know one thing: She might have bearing, but from the familiar way she spoke to him, she certainly wasn't from old money.

At the end of Warren Street, Maisie Dobbs stopped in front of the black front door of a somewhat rundown Georgian terraced house, tucked the Daily Express under her left arm, carefully opened her document case, and took out an envelope containing a letter from her landlord and two keys. The letter instructed her to give the outside door a good shove after turning the key in the lock, to light the gas lamp at the base of the stairs carefully, to mind the top step of the first flight of stairs — which needed to be looked at — and to remember to lock her own door before leaving in the evening. The letter also told her that Billy Beale, the caretaker, would put up her nameplate on the outside door if she liked or, it suggested, perhaps she would prefer to remain anonymous.

Maisie grinned. I need the business, she said to herself. I'm not here to remain anonymous. Maisie suspected that Mr. Sharp, the landlord, was unlikely to live up to his name, and that he would pose questions with obvious answers each time they met. However, his directions were apt: The door did indeed need a shove, but the gas lamp, once lit, hardly dented the musky darkness of the stairwell. Clearly there were some things that needed to be changed, but all in good time. For the moment Maisie had work to do, even if she had no actual cases to work on.

Minding the top step, Maisie turned right on the landing and headed straight for the brown painted door on the left, the one with the frosted glass window and a To Let sign hanging from the doorknob. She removed tthe sign, put the key into the lock, opened the door, and took a deep breath before stepping into her new office. It was a single room with a gas fire, a gas lamp on each wall, and one sash window with a view of the building across the street and the rooftops beyond. There was an oak desk with a matching chair of dubious stability, and an old filing cabinet to the right of the window.

Lady Rowan Compton, her patron and former employer, had been correct; Warren Street wasn't a particularly salubrious area. But if she played her cards right, Maisie could afford the rent and have some money left over from the sum she had allowed herself to take from her savings. She didn't want a fancy office, but she didn't want an out-and-out dump either. No, she wanted something in the middle, something for everyone, something central, but then again not in the thick of things. Maisie felt a certain comfort in this small corner of Bloomsbury. They said that you could sit down to tea with just about anyone around Fitzroy Square and dine with a countess and a carpenter at the same table, with both of them at ease in the company. Yes, Warren Street would be good for now. The tricky thing was going to be the nameplate. She still hadn't solved the problem of the nameplate.

As Lady Rowan had asked, "So, my dear, what will you call yourself? I mean, we all know what you do, but what will be your trade name? You can hardly state the obvious. 'Finds missing people, dead or alive, even when it's themselves they are looking for' really doesn't cut the mustard. We have to think of something succinct, something that draws upon your unique talents."

"I was thinking of 'Discreet Investigations,' Lady Rowan. What do you think?"

"But that doesn't tell anyone about how you use your mind, my dear — what you actually do."

"It's not really my mind I'm using, it's other people's. I just ask the questions."

"Poppycock! What about 'Discreet Cerebral Investigations.'?"

Maisie smiled at Lady Rowan, raising an eyebrow in mock dismay at the older woman's suggestion. She was at ease, seated in front of the fireplace in her former employer's library, a fireplace she had once cleaned wiith the raw, housework-roughened hands of a maid in service.

"No, I'm not a brain surgeon. I'm going to think about it for a bit, Lady Rowan. I want to get it right."

The gray-haired aristocrat leaned over and patted Maisie on the knee. "I'm sure that whatever you choose, you will do very well, my dear. Very well indeed."

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Maisie is 14 when her mother dies, and she must go into service to help her father make ends meet. Her prodigious intellect and the fact that she is sneaking into the manor library at night to read Hume, Kierkegaard, and Jung alert Lady Rowan to the fact that she has an unusual maid. She arranges for Maisie to be tutored, and the girl ultimately qualifies for Cambridge. She goes for a year, only to be drawn by the need for nurses during the Great War. After serving a grueling few years in France and falling in love with a young doctor, Maisie puts up a shingle in 1929 as a private investigator. She is a perceptive observer of human nature, works well with all classes, and understands the motivations and demons prevalent in postwar England. Teens will be drawn in by her first big case, seemingly a simple one of infidelity, but leading to a complex examination of an almost cultlike situation. The impact of the war on the country is vividly conveyed. A strong protagonist and a lively sense of time and place carry readers along, and the details lead to further thought and understanding about the futility and horror of war, as well as a desire to hear more of Maisie. This is the beginning of a series, and a propitious one at that.
Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004333
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,320 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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