Friday, September 30, 2011

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

She started as a maid in an aristocratic London household when she was thirteen. Her employer, Lady Rowan Compton, a suffragette, took the remarkably bright youngster under her wing and became her patron, aided by Maurice Blanche, a friend often retained as an investigator by the elite of Europe. It was he who first recognised Maisie's intuitive gifts and helped her to earn admission to prestigious Girton College at Cambridge where Maisie planned to complete her education.

The outbreak of war changed everything. Maisie trained as a nurse, then left for France to serve at the Front, where she found - and lost - an important part of herself.

Ten years after the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator, one who has learned that coincidences are meaningful, and truth elusive. her very first case involves suspected infidelity but reveals something very different. In the aftermath of the Great War, a former officer has founded a convalescent refuge for those grievously wounded, ex-soldiers too shattered to resume normal life. It is a working farm known as The Retreat. When Fate brings Maisie a second case involving The Retreat she must confront the ghost that has haunted her for over ten years.

Okay, I am going to start with shallow and make my way to a bit more depth in this review!

Firstly, can I say how much I dislike this cover! It might be correct for the era but it is also drab and boring especially when you are holding the book in your hand and I am so glad that they have moved onto new covers for this series.Aren't these ones much, much better?

Anyway ... moving on.

Do you have strategies as to how and what you are going to read next? For the longest time I had put off reading this book because I was reading the Phryne Fisher mystery series which is also set in the late 1920s and I had decided that I didn't want to mix the two series. Now that I seem to have fallen off the Phryne Fisher series (not deliberately I just haven't read one for ages) it was time to give Maisie a go. To be honest though, other than the superficial similarities of a woman detective in the late 1920s there is really not a lot in common and so I could have been reading them both the whole time! Oh well, lesson learned!

Maisie Dobbs started out as a maid in the London household of Lady Rowan Compton, mother, suffragette and determined to make a difference. Early on Maisie's enthusiasm for education and learning is identified when she is found reading in the library in the early hours of the morning, and so Lady Compton brings in her friend Maurice to teach her, leading to a place for Maisie at Girton College in Cambridge. Her future education is pretty much assured until World War I interrupts and instead of continuing her education she becomes a nurse first in a London hospital but later on is sent to the French fronts.

Fast forward 10 years and Maisie is setting herself up as a private investigator. Her first case involves a husband who believes that his wife is cheating on him. The clues eventually lead Maisie to a working farm which was set up to provide a safe haven for those returned soldiers who suffered horrific injuries that make it difficult to live a normal life, but Maisie thinks that there is something a bit odd about the set up. When Lady Compton's son James decides that he wants to go and live at The Retreat, Maisie knows that she needs to investigate, with the assistance of Billy. He was a patient in France and they meet again fortuitously when she rents the rooms where he is the building handyman/supervisor.

The structure on this one was interesting. The first part of the book is all about the cases she is working on, but the second part takes us back to her humble beginnings and works through her past leading right up to her time as a war nurse. The scenes portrayed in this section in particular were heart rending and this reader could almost hear the guns booming through the pages. The third section of the book then went back to the case, and to the memories that Maisie is forced to confront and deal with, especially the memories of the heart. The supporting cast of characters include not only those I have mentioned previously and her father Frankie, and they all work to assist Maisie with her case but also with her own emotional issues.

I feel a little silly that I waited so long to start this series because I knew I would like it. I can assure you that I will be reading the next book in the series fairly soon! It is waiting at the library to be picked up as we speak!

Rating 4/5

This book is one of the books that Kelly challenged me to read for the 2011 Reading Swap! Two down, three to go!


  1. Nope, no reading strategy, here. Since I began reading ARCs, I do try to mix them in with books from my shelves but I'm finding that the best reading method for me is still very organic -- just flipping through books until I find one that grabs me.

    I tried Maisie Dobbs and couldn't get into it, but it still sounds like such a fun series that I keep thinking I'll have to give it another go, someday. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Loved this series and can't wait for the next one.

  3. Bookfool, I tend to read by library or review due dates! It isn't often that I get to scan the shelves and pick something at random.

    Julie, I can see why so many people love it.

  4. I have the first book in this series but it seems like life just keeps getting in the way of my reading it! I have the one with the yellow cover!

  5. Hi Marg

    These sound good, and yes I agree the new covers have a lot more life in them. I read a Phyrne Fisher novel earlier this year and found it a bit fluffy for me, maybe I just chose the wrong one. Maisie the maid turned detective sounds more interesting. I will be sure to make a note of the series.

    As to what I am going to read next, my selections are consistently random :) I know longer bother fighting it.

  6. Mel, did you read Cocaine Blues which is the first book in the series? If yes, then that is definitely not the best one in the series.

    Staci, I hope you get to read it soon.

  7. I liked the way the book was broken up, it made for an interesting and unexpected read. Agree, the cover is hideous! Who would pick up and know it's a mystery, right?
    I wasn't completely sold on the series, so the second book is my maybe someday list. Glad you enjoyed though :)

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  9. I had conflicting emotions when reading this book. I really enjoyed Maisie's back story and history, but I found the mystery in the present a little underwhelming. I had expected both sections to go like gangbusters, and I ended up feeling like things were a little lopsided. I have heard that subsequent books are even more entertaining, so I might have to give a try to the second in the series, at least. This was a great review, Marg. I appreciated reading your thoughts on this one!

  10. Zibilee, I guess that in this book there was so much room given to Maisie's background that the mystery wasn't the whole focus?

    Jenny Girl, I guess that I have heard so many good things about the series that I will keep reading just because, if you know what I mean! Glad I am not the only one who finds the cover ugly.

  11. I am so glad you finally read and liked Maisie Dobbs!! I powered my way through and caught up with the series earlier this year. I love the way each book has enough variation in the central mystery (although many are quite light on the mystery) to keep the series from feeling formulaic. I'm glad you met Maisie and hope you enjoy getting to know her, Billy and the rest of the recurring characters.

  12. It seems like everyone on Twitter is reading Maisie Dobbs this week! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the series.



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