Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Maisie Dobbs

I just finished a novel for my book group featuring a young woman in England in the early 1900s who is notable for her intelligence and keen powers of observation.  She attends university, grows to adulthood during WWI, and is mentored by a much older gentleman with whom she solves cases and learns to be a private detective.  Sound familiar?  That's what I thought too, but it was not a Mary Russell mystery by Laurie R. King.  With so many similarities in the basic premise, however, it was hard not to draw comparisons.

Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear, begins with the title character striking out on her own as a private detective.  Her first case is a question of marital fidelity.  When a man comes to her with questions about his wife's activities, Maisie is eventually led to a private retreat/compound for WWI veterans whose facial disfigurements have made re-entry into society almost impossible.  As she investigates the compound with its unexplained deaths, she is also forced to face her own grief and loss that she experienced during her years serving as a nurse on the front lines.

Much of the story is told in flashback, giving us a look at how Maisie came from very humble beginnings but was blessed with the patronage of forward-thinking aristocrats, a university education, and tutelage from the sage-like mentor who teaches her about psychological detective work.  We see quite a few scenes from the war, but only the briefest hint of the graphic horrors that came with it.  Part mystery, part romance, part war drama, part period study, part social commentary; in my opinion Winspear tried to take on more issues than Maisie Dobbs was equipped to handle.  The character depth just wasn't there like it is with King's complex Mary Russell. I felt like Winspear shied away from exploring the nitty-gritty things that would have really turned Maisie into a well-rounded character.  Instead, she just gives the reader brief glimpses and expects them to fill in the depth.

Having said that, it was still an interesting story with a poignant conclusion that has lingered with me longer than I would have expected.  Is it enough to continue Maisie's story with the rest of the series?  (Because of course there's a whole series!)  I haven't decided.  I do hate to leave a series unfinished, and there's always a chance that Winspear's writing improves with time and experience.  Maybe my book group will offer an illuminating perspective.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I've read this! How about that? So, I liked it okay but not enough to continue on to the next books in the series. My mom, however, is crazy about the books and devoured each one. I'd love to know if you decide to continue reading and if it's worth it.