Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club is back from summer vacation, and my choice for review is a favorite mystery, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.
Maisie Dobbs is one of the most fascinating and memorable characters I’ve come across in a while. When we first meet her, she is a private investigator setting up her own business in 1929 London, an unusual profession for a woman. We also learn that she was after was a battlefield nurse during World War I. It soon becomes clear that she is extremely smart as well as insightful and compassionate. Her first client is a man who thinks his wife is having an affair. Twice a week she leaves home and no one knows where she has gone. When Maisie follows the wife, she tracks her to a cemetery on the outskirts of London where she tends the grave of a man called simply Vincent. She learns from a caretaker that Vincent was horribly disfigured during the war and committed suicide. In searching for more information about Vincent, Maisie discovers a terrible secret.
In the middle of the book, we flash back to Maisie’s past. The daughter of a London costermonger (vegetable seller), Maisie was a bright child with the potential to rise above her station and perhaps become a teacher–a high aspiration for a young girl in the early 1900s. Her mother’s death and subsequent medical bills put a halt to this plan, and her father reluctantly decides that thirteen-year-old Maisie must go into service. She is taken on as an under maid by Lady Rowan. One of Maisie’s jobs is to light the fires in the morning, including in the library. She falls in love with the room and decides to get up at 3 AM and read before it’s time to start work. One night, Lady Rowan, her husband, and their friend Dr. Maurice Blanche come home late. Lady Rowan goes to the library and finds Maisie there trying to teach herself Latin. Lady Rowan is astounded by her young maid’s ambition and intelligence, so she and Dr. Blanche decide to make Maisie their project. Dr. Blanche tutors her so she can go to college. But war breaks out after one year of college and she trains as a nurse. She also falls in love with a young captain in the medical corps. But he is obviously not part of the main story, and we don’t know what happened to him until the end.
I really loved this book. The mystery was very interesting and unveiled slowly but with rising tension. Though the war has been over for eleven years, its effects still linger. The characters are interesting and shown with more depth than is typical in many cozy mysteries. I’ll gladly read more in this series.
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