February 19, 2014
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Series: Book One in a series
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publication Date: 2004
Maisie Dobbs is categorized as a mystery, but I would consider it general fiction or historical fiction. The main character, Maisie, is a detective and there is a mystery to solve, but the novel diverges from the usual patterns of the mystery genre. Maisie Dobbs is primarily a character driven novel and the plot takes a backseat to the main character.
The novel is divided into three sections. The first section introduces Maisie in 1929 as she takes on her first investigation case with a mystery to solve. This section reads very much like a mystery novel. The second section is a flashback to Maisie's youth, prior to WWI, as a smart young girl taken into service as a scullery maid in the home of Lady Rowan. It is here, as part of Lady Rowan's progressive social beliefs, that Maisie is provided an education alongside her service as a maid. Maisie is also mentored by a rather enigmatic gentleman detective and government consultant as part of her education. It is hoped, by this gentleman, that Maisie might one day take over his business when he retires. This section also describes Maisie's war experiences as a nurse during WWI. The entire second section reads like historical fiction. The third section of the book returns to 1929, the mystery, and its resolution. The third section is somewhat suspenseful, but not overly so.
I found both the character of Maisie Dobbs, as well as the historical and social aspects of the novel, quite satisfying. I fell in love with Maisie and her unconventional detecting methods. Maisie's real skill is helping people find the truths about themselves. The detecting becomes more about the people involved than about the events. There is a bit of Eastern mysticism involved in Maisie's intuitive methodology that I hope the author engages with in future books of the series. I am particularly interested in the time period covered in this novel with it's early 20th century shift from a class-based society to an emerging (more) egalitarian one and the social issues that are involved with that shift. Those who like Downton Abbey will probably enjoy this first book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Particularly heartbreaking in this novel is the trauma of WWI and the deep scar that the horror and grief left on Great Britain for many years. The novel captures this personal and national grief well through plot and character.
I must mention that there were a few times I had to suspend my disbelief. I don't know if the author decided to take liberties with her writing in order to suit the storyline or if this was oversight. It will be interesting to see if this continues in future books.
I highly recommend this book to those who like historical fiction, character driven novels, or just a good story. I noticed that School Library Journal reviewed the book which tells me it is a crossover novel between adult fiction and YA. I don't think it is marketed as YA, but it is certainly appropriate.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know if you've written a review and I will add it in a list below.
Here is what others have to say!
Jenn at The Picky Girl is "Mad for Maisie" and is responsible for me picking up this book