Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Review of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs

My main task for the Bookfest is to review Jacqueline Winspear's latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series, An Incomplete Revenge. While waiting for it, the good people at the Bookfest sent me the first two books in the series and I thought it would be good to get some background on Winspear's heroine before reading the most recent mystery.

Maisie Dobbs introduces, uh, Maisie Dobbs and it's an interesting introduction. I have to admit, I had a little trouble getting into it at first. The book begins in medias res, so that right away we're seeing Maisie interact with various people including her first client. Maisie, whose business sign intriguingly reads "Psychology, Investigations," seems a bit abrupt at first. I wasn't sure if I was really going to like her, which although not necessary in many books of fiction, is, I think, necessary to mysteries. The first part of the book also seemed a bit heavy-handed in instructing the reader about post WWI England. Why this bothered me, I don't know, since I for one needed the education.

Maisie's case leads to a mystery involving veterans of the Great War, and triggers Maisie's own memories of that time. The reader is thus taken back to Maisie's humble beginnings and her educational and professional rise. I found this part of the book fascinating. Maisie's character is revealed to be kind and modest, while she is also a voracious reader and scholar. She finds she prefers studies that ask open-ended questions, such as philosophy and psychology.

When the war begins, Maisie trains to be a nurse and is sent to France. Her experience there greatly informs the person she becomes later. When the book comes back to the "present," we have a much better understanding of Maisie, which is most welcome as she pursues her increasingly more interesting case. Naturally, I won't spoil the ending, but it calls upon Maisie's talents both as a psychologist and investigator.

The two most notable qualities of this mystery are: (1) Maisie's introspection and the way that it is triggered by her cases and (2) her stated requirement that any information she turns up must be used in a responsible way by her client. She feels a responsibility not only to the client, but to anyone that she investigates. This makes her unique among detectives, in my opinion.

I highly recommend this book and hope that you'll read it and come to the Bookfest to see and hear Jacqueline Winspear in person.

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