Maisie Dobbs – a review by Sarah Zama

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.

Maisie-Dobbs-by-Jacqueline-WinspearMAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs #1) – reviewed by Sarah Zama

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.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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7 Responses

  1. Thanks for hosting my review ^_^
    Oh, I’ll have to check that novel out then. I’m very interested in WWI at the moment and in the interwar years here in Europe. Just started today a book about that periode by historian Enzo Traverso, who presents those years (1914-1945) as the European Civil War. Very very intersting.

  2. I have also read a few of the Maisie Dobbs stories and I have come to the same conclusion as Sarah: characters well-drawn, but back story too busy. Very well researched, as regards how WW1 affected people’s thinking. I particularly enjoyed the bit at the station where civilians were asked to stand back to let the soldiers board the trains. I suspect that this is a subject we are only just coming to terms with, because at the time people weren’t encouraged to think further than death and glory and empire.

    I was once shown some mourning cards which my grandmother had prepared for her brother who died at the Somme. His death, and that of my grandfather, who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, overshadowed her whole life.

    1. I find it very weird that we aren’t tought much about the two wars, since they do shadow our lives still today. Even the lives of people, like myself, who had been born yet.
      I’m happy the centennial of the Great War is stirring this knowledge. Knowing the history of the first half of the XX century is particularly important today, in my opinion. There are so many echoes with our own times. And storytelling may do the job far better than school lessons. It can make us see. It can make us feel. It isn’t just knowledge.

      I think you’re lucky to have such personal memories, painful as they might be.

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