(Recently I joined a newly-formed writers critique group called Writers Haven. This review was written on January 30, 2015, but I saved it for publishing so I could use it as a submission for my fellow group members.)
I finished Maisie Dobbs this morning—in my car outside the gym. After nearly completing it while walking briskly on the treadmill, I knew I had to give its ending just a few more quiet minutes.
Maisie Dobbs is a book with heart, from the first page to the last, even though the book’s beginning is not the true beginning of Maisie’s story. We are introduced to her as a young woman in the late 1920’s. She is quiet and independent, establishing herself as a lady detective in London.
Her first case, and the subject around which the rest of the story is centralized, involves a home for WWI veterans called The Retreat. While seemingly innocent–a place where soldiers with facial injuries and shell shock can live quietly without society’s judgement—it is up to Maisie to decipher if everything is as it appears.
Then suddenly, the story takes a sharp u-turn. The reader is hurled into the pre-war past. We learn about Maisie’s family, her early years in service, and the two people who saw her potential and took her under their wings. One is Lady Rowan, owner of the estate where 13 year old Maisie works as a maid. The other is Maurice Blanche—physician, criminologist, and Lady Rowan’s friend who becomes Maisie’s mentor. Their influence takes the reader though the years that shape Maisie into the woman to whom we are first introduced.
While initially perturbed at this abrupt time change, I forgave the author when events from the past and present began to weave together. As I mentioned, this is a book with heart, and you observe how people who fade in and out of Maisie’s life impact her as a person and a detective. Her chosen profession is not just about earning a living, but making positive changes in her clients’ lives and absorbing wisdom that will, hopefully, affect her next case.
First and foremost, that is what Maisie does. She absorbs. Under Maurice’s tutelage she has learned that the smallest nuances have meaning: a look, a touch, a word. Sometimes the most meaningful hint is the one that’s missing.
All of these plot points, including strong supporting characters and one of the best endings I have ever read, add up to a very enjoyable reading experience, one that stays with you. Fortunately, this is only the first in the Maisie Dobbs series. Jacqueline Winspear has definitely struck gold with her likable, highly observant protagonist.
9.5 out of 10 Stars