Title: Maisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Review Summary: Well written mystery with an impressive female protagonist, convincingly set in the 1920’s but with too much focus on WWI’s leftovers and not enough urgency.
Maisie Dobbs, the lead character after whom the book is named, is an intelligent, independent woman and one of the first generation of women taking on traditionally male roles following WWI. She’s also a brilliant private investigator with a personal life affected by her experience as a nurse in the war. The war also leaves it’s mark on her professional life, since many of her cases directly relate to the war’s aftermath. This includes the case which is the focus of this book which starts out as “an ordinary infidelity case” but which “soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets”.
I fell in love with Maisie Dobbs’ character right away. The author does an incredible job showing what Maisie’s like by starting with a stranger’s initial impression of her. She immediately comes across as capable, confident but down-to-earth, and very striking. As we go on and get more of her history, she began to remind me of Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with her constant desire to read and learn, no matter the hardships of her circumstance. And really, what bookworm can resist a protagonist who shares their love of reading?
Maisie’s crime solving style also appealed to me. She depends very much on an understanding of human nature, a method I’ve loved in my mystery solvers ever since my first Agatha Christie books. Particularly interesting to me was the way she mimicked people’s body language to try to figure out what they might be feeling. She also paid great attention to detail, a trait the author shared. The many details felt distracting at first, but that feeling disappeared quickly once I got drawn into the story.
There were a few problems that didn’t go away as well, particularly where the book clashed with my expectations of a mystery. First, there was a large section in the middle devoted to Maisie’s stint as a nurse during the war. By the time we got there, I was very curious about what happened and excited to read that part of the book. Sadly, it dragged on too long and made the book only half mystery with the other half a war story that distracted me from the main plot line.
Another problem was the feel of the novel. Solving the mystery never felt very urgent to me. I was a little curious, but never on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happened next. And there wasn’t a clear cut crime and suspect list as in Agatha Christie’s novels, so I never in found myself trying to solve the mystery. Instead of a straightforward whodunit, the questions here was whether there was a crime at all. Additionally, the ending, where all the action took place was very short and rushed. The ending didn’t feel very conclusively, happily solved either. Overall, it was a sadder, more pensive feel than I like in my mysteries. Give me a clear cut crime and a feel-good identification of the bad guy over this any day. Of course, that’s not to say I won’t be reading more of the series – the writing and the main character are too good for me to give up hope that future books will have more defined crimes and conclusively happy endings.
Who should read this? anyone who likes stories that really capture the ambiance of England in the 1920’s, anyone who likes war stories, anyone who likes more thoughtful mysteries, and (word on the street says) anyone who liked The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency