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Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series

September 28, 2012 - Jodelle Greiner
Jacqueline Winspear is one of those authors that I try to read as soon as her books come out. She’s created a mesmerizing heroine in Maisie Dobbs, surrounded her with a setting that’s as much a part of the storyline as the mysteries Maisie solves, and writes in a way that wraps around and soaks your senses.

The journey begins with “Maisie Dobbs”, the series’ namesake novel. England in the late 1920’s is still in upheaval after the Great War. Maisie is trying to find her way after suffering physical and mental trauma while serving as a nurse in France. It’s an unsettling time for women; many young men were killed in the war. Not only are the women uncertain they will ever be wives and mothers, they must find ways to earn a living in a world not set up for women workers. Maisie receives help from her employer, Lady Rowan Compton, who sees she gets an education, and Dr. Maurice Blanche, who takes Maisie on as an apprentice, teaching her to use her intellect to solve cases as an investigator.

Instead of using DNA and blood spatter, Maisie follows the trail psychologically. Unusually intuitive, Maisie has a knack for seeing things others think they’ve hidden and uncovers more than just what her clients asked. As Maurice tells her, “The extraordinary hides behind the camouflage of the ordinary. Assume nothing, Maisie.”

There’s nothing stereotypical about this series. Winspear doesn’t follow a formula when she writes and these stories don’t always end in expected ways. Most novels are over when the culprit is identified and the mystery solved. Not this series. Maisie is different from other investigators in that she not only gets to the bottom of the situation, she strives to make sure everyone she touches during the investigation has some kind of closure, which is as unique as the varied characters themselves, because Winspear’s characters are full-bodied people, with individual personalities and nuances.

Details are important, whether it’s about life in England at that time or the smallest clue in Maisie’s assignment — and usually, one has a bearing on the other, because Winspear has a real gift for meshing the mystery with the history.

I’ve never read any other books like this series. Winspear’s writing voice colors the story in every way, gently transporting the reader to a special place somewhere between a just-remembered dream and solid fact.

Like Winspear’s writing, Maisie herself is difficult to describe. She’s grounded and practical with a working class background, but she’s also elusive, inscrutable and enigmatic. With each novel, Winspear expands what the reader knows about Maisie, but always keeps her recognizable. In some ways, the woman you meet in “Maisie Dobbs” is still the same one, but in other ways, she’s ineffably different in the ninth and latest novel, “Elegy for Eddie”, which finds Maisie coming full circle, in a way, living in the shadow of the threat creeping across Europe from Herr Hitler, Germany’s Chancellor.

Each book in the series has its own personality and flavor, giving the reader something to consider about that period and how it reflects the one in which we live, along the way to solving the mystery.


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