Friday, February 25, 2011

A Review of "Maisie Dobbs" [13]

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0142004333
May 25, 2004, 320 pages

From the opening paragraphs of Maisie Dobbs we realize we have in this young woman, for whom the book is named, a bit of an enigma. The newspaper vendor, who is observing her as she leaves the tube station of London in 1929, noting her appearance, her bearing, and assume she is from old money. But when she stops to buy a paper and speaks to him, he realizes his assumption is not quite right. From the familiar way she deals with him he know that while, yes, she certainly is a young woman with a certain presence, she is not from old money. As we follow her to the office where she will be setting up her private detective agency, quite the unusual occupation for a woman in the 20's, we can not help but be intrigued about what her story might be. Happily, in this, the first book in the Maisie Dobbs series, we are going to find actually that out.

Maisie is not from a wealthy family, in fact quite the opposite. Just 13 years old when we meet her, her mother dead from an illness that depleted the small savings of her father who sells vegetables from a horse drawn cart, the future her parents saw for her appears gone. Maisie is a smart girl, a very smart girl, and they hoped to be able to save enough money to continue her education. But that dream gone now, she is sent to work as a maid for a very wealthy family in their beautiful London home, a home that contains what is for Maisie something she can not ignore...a wonderful library. The young girl starts rising in the very early hours of the morning so she can spend an hour or two in secret, reading all these wonderful book.

When she is discover by the Lady of the house, she fears she will be fired, but in fact, realizing what an exceptional mind Maisie has, Lady Compton allows her to start a program of study under the tutelage of family friend, Maurice Blanche. Maurice is a man with an extraordinary perceptive nature, his own rather mysterious background and quite the education it will be. This arrangement will continue for years, finally culminating in her admittance to Cambridge. But all will not go quite so smoothly because across the Channel, war, the Great War,  is breaking out and soon Maisie will be in the thick of it as a nurse.

As the book opens, it is a decade after the end of the war, but her very first case, a husband who thinks his wife may be unfaithful, will soon lead to another mystery..then another, and before she knows it Maisie..and the reader...are being drawn back to the battlefields of France. It is an experience that left Maisie, and the countless men who came home wounded in body and in mind, some horribly disfigured, and so many who never came home, changed forever.

I first read about this series in a review by She Is Too Fond Of Books who is taking part in the “I’m Mad for Maisie” Readalong at Book Club Girl’s site. I may be late to the read-a-long but this is certainly a series that I will be continuing in my own time, because this was a very enjoyable book. At the heart of that enjoyment is the character of Maisie. She is very smart, very clever and like her mentor Maurice, very perceptive. Yet she is also still a bit of a mystery, with some questions that will, no doubt, be explored in future books in the series. Honestly, I am not usually a fan of historical novels, but the author is able to make Maisie's experience in the War so personal that the reader can not help but be drawn in and shocked by what we 'see'.
And while this is in part a mystery story, it is also very much an exploration of personalities, and families, and friendship. We see her with her charming and loving father Frankie, her mentor Maurice, her benefactor Lady Compton, her friends at Cambridge and as she starts her business and finally, most tragically, with Simon, loved and 'lost'. Each is a relationship that, no doubt, we will see more of in future books, much to the reader pleasure.

A good story, with an interesting if not too complicated mystery, a fascinating setting, wonderful, unusual characters, great writing..what more can a reader want?
Well, how about six more books with the eighth, A Lesson in Secrets, that will be published by HarperCollins in March 2011.  I have a lot of catching up to do! So many little time....

Borrowed from my local public library.


  1. Glad you discovered this series as it is an excellent one and each book gets better and better. I've read the first 5 or 6, can't remember exactly, but Winspear does a wonderful job in developing Maisie's character. Happy reading!

  2. I will need to check and see if my library has these books. They sound like something I would enjoy reading, BTW...Great review.

  3. This sounds like a Maisie was a woman before her time. Everyone seems to love these books!

  4. I just posted my review of this. Like you, I was taken with Maisie. I'm very curious about the next books in the series because I got the impression that the first book was really all about setting the stage for the future.


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