The BUZZ: Released this year, this is the 11th installment in the award-winning Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Winspear. We reviewed Winspear’s first novel here.
The GIST: When the series opens, Maisie Dobbs is in her 20’s, a British field nurse during WWI who is now setting up her own detective agency. She solves murders and other crimes using both logic and intuition. Maisie’s extensive training in psychology allows her to see beyond the physical clues and into the minds and motivations of those who commit the crimes. Her unassuming assistant, Billy, is able to make his way into the underbelly of London to pursue leads, and they develop a lovely friendship. Over the course of the series, Maisie grows her expertise and moves past the losses of war. Wonderful things happen for her: she builds a successful career, inherits wealth, finds love, and shares her gifts generously. This latest entry begins as Maisie’s life has turned sharply once again, and she is struggling to regain a foothold after experiencing unbearable loss. Her sojourn in Gibraltar in 1937 as the winds of WWII are stirring provides another mystery for Maisie to solve and a lifeline back to the world of the living.
The WRITING: Detailed and delicious. Winspear’s mysteries read like novels. The plots are tight and well crafted, but it’s the character development that makes these books stand out. Winspear lets us know what Maisie is thinking and what she’s wearing, allows us to read her letters and listen in on her conversations, and introduces us to her family and friends. She also lets us inside Maisie’s heart, which is an open and warm and sometimes broken place. We become part of Maisie’s world and the world of Britain in the 1930s, a country just barely healing from the “war to end all wars”.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. I stumbled on my first Maisie Dobbs book as a staff recommendation at a bookstore, and I was surprised to see detective fiction as a top pick. These are special, though – not simply mysteries, but a mix of history, psychology, and feminism with some murder and mayhem thrown in.
Maisie pulled out her leather suitcase, her carpetbag, and her knapsack and repacked her clothing. She cleared her toiletries into a cotton drawstring bag and tucked it away in the carpetbag. As she did so, the vial of morphia tablets dropped on the floor. She picked it up and looked at the label, realizing she’d not had cause to take a pill for a while. Perhaps focusing on something outside of herself had focused her immediate thoughts away from her wounds.