Sarah Zama has followed A Writer of History for some time now and a few months ago mentioned some historical fiction she’d been reading, so I invited her to write a book review for the blog. In today’s post she’s reviewing Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (she also has a review on her blog, The Old Shelter). Take it away, Sarah.
Jacqueline Winspear has written twelve mystery novels in a series with Maisie Dobbs as protagonist. This novel is the first in the series.
The setting is London, 1929. Maisie Dobbs sets up her own investigation agency and she is quite a unique investigator, who cares for the truth and for the feeling of all people involved in an investigation. This first case involves WWI veterans, which forces Maisie to look into her own war experience and the unresolved matters she has tried to leave behind.
I have very contrasting feelings toward this book. It starts out as a mystery, but I’m a bit hesitant to actually define it as such. The central part of the story – and it’s a good half of the entire book – is really Maisie’s backstory, which suggests an introductory book with a mystery as an afterthought. While the backstory where characters are introduced and relationships explained is interesting, its connection to the mystery is not very strong nor very pertinent. The story of how Maisie went from childhood to university student and from being the pupil of a doctor and detective to being a nurse during WWI is really a story in itself, and didn’t need the distraction of a mystery. Indeed, the mystery could have worked without the reader needing to know anything about Maisie’s past. Connecting the two felt contrived.
In my opinion, the conclusion of the mystery is lame and a little unrealistic. A great effort is made to make it relevant to Maisie’s past experiences, but personally, I didn’t find it to work particularly well.
And still, I enjoyed the book because the characters are so well drawn and all relatable in their own way. (I’ve also learned that most of them will appear in subsequent books of the series). Winspear has a gift for creating quirky and intriguing characters. She also has a gift for writing amusing and moving vignettes. It’s a shame that this first novel in the Maisie Dobbs series lacks a compelling plot.
I enjoyed reading of the effects of World War I on ordinary people. All the characters in the book have to cope with the war, one way or another, a horrible, global war like no other before.
In summary, the book has much to offer – enough for me to set aside the story’s shortcomings.
Many thanks, Sarah. I too enjoyed Maisie Dobbs – my first introduction to Jacqueline Winspear. And thought her WWI novel, The Care and Management of Lies – was truly exceptional.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.