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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars speaking coincidently, speaking in tongues, March 25, 2008
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This review is from: An Incomplete Revenge: A Maisie Dobbs Novel (Maisie Dobbs Novels) (Hardcover)
The Maisie Dobbs series is exquisitely researched and sensitively written, with the nuances of the British class system - in radical flux between the Great War and the Hitler War - embodied by the characters and their interactions. Winspear is careful to set her plots in a way that allows her to address social issues and politics while solving mysteries, and the reader always learns a great deal while having a grand read.

If there's a flaw in this jewel of a series, it's Winspear's dependence coincidence. More accurately, it's her addiction to it and her almost morbid sensitivity about the same. Not only do the plots bristle with coincidences big and small, but the narrator feels the need to explain/accommodate/apologize for these devices, even as Winspear strews them round her characters' feet. Indeed, the title of the fourth book in the series, Messenger of Truth, is part of a quote attributed to Maisie Dobbs' mentor: "Coincidence is the messenger of truth." In An Incomplete Revenge, Maisie's assistant quotes it back at her.

If coincidence were really the messenger of truth, Maisie would be the Delphic Oracle, not merely a hardworking and insightful detective. Winspear's multiple coincidences diminish the talents of the wonderful character she has created.

All readers of mysteries are prepared to accept some coincidences. They are part of the genre, and only the greatest luminaries in the field can fashion a plot without them. Winspear would do well to acknowledge this, to acknowledge it tacitly, and let us get on with our reading. Between the coincidental events and her need to make them acceptable, it sets a reader's teeth on edge.

One of the things we learn about in An Incomplete Revenge is the life and culture of the gypsies, or Roma people. Winspear has taken the trouble to acquire quite a few words of their language, and she sprinkles them liberally through the text. Sadly, the results are not felicitous. Rather than letting readers acquire meaning from context or from a quick appositive, Winspear uses repetition, writing phrases and clauses twice: "A Roma would trust anyone before a diddakio - before the half-bred people who were born of gypsy and gorja. . . . Beulah brought four tin bowls from underneath the caravan - underneath the vardo in the gypsy tongue." (2)

This becomes MASSIVELY irritating very very quickly, and it goes on and on. Furthermore, the since the repetition functions as translation, it raises the question of why Winspear uses only nouns. If we have to read through translations, it would at least be fair to give us some syntax and grammar in Anglo-Romani.

But keep reading. While the Roma discourse makes the first part of the book irritating, once the plot gets firing on all cylinders, Winspear sticks with the vocab she's already introduced, and the gypsies become an intriguing part of the multifaceted mystery.

This is a story about calling things by their right names. Things and people. The people in Winspear's books are fabulously drawn, unusual without being quaint, all of them the sort of characters who must surely have lives they keep on living once we've turned the final page. We see Pris and her pack of wild sons again in this novel, even as we lose the lost-boy, lost-love Simon. Billy and his family engage in the Londoner's working vacation, hop-picking in Kent just as Maisie has a meaty mystery to investigate there. Lots of solid background details make the countryside's beauty pull the reader into the pages, while the ever-solid Frankie Dobbs is nearby to offer Maisie (and the reader) comfort and support when things get dark.

One of the best things about the series is that things change. Maisie moves from one place to another, from one case to another, out of some relationships and on with some more. It's a sadness to end such a book, but there's comfort in knowing that we will see Billy and Pris again, while the gypsy connection looks ripe for many future tales.
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