Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher:  Penguin Books
Date: May 25, 2004 (Reprint)
ISBN: 978-0142004333
Pages: 294
rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary:  Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, began her working life at the age of thirteen as a servant in a Belgravia mansion, only to be discovered reading in the library by her employer, Lady Rowan Compton. Fearing dismissal, Maisie is shocked when she discovers that her thirst for education is to be supported by Lady Rowan and a family friend, Dr. Maurice Blanche. But The Great War intervenes in Maisie’s plans, and soon after commencement of her studies at Girton College, Cambridge, Maisie enlists for nursing service overseas. Years later, in 1929, having apprenticed to the renowned Maurice Blanche, a man revered for his work with Scotland Yard, Maisie sets up her own business. Her first assignment, a seemingly tedious inquiry involving a case of suspected infidelity, takes her not only on the trail of a killer, but back to the war she had tried so hard to forget.

My Thoughts:  The Maisie Dobbs series caught my eye when the books first began appearing on reader's blogs sometime last year.  I guess I'm an Anglophile since I'm a big fan of most British culture and literature and also enjoy some of the British TV series. I also like the literary mystery genre, as well as thrillers, books about criminal investigations and detective fiction.  (That said, there's quite a bit I don't like in those same genres but that's for another day!).  So, when Trish, from my favorite book site, TLC Book Tours, emailed me about an upcoming tour highlighting Jacqueline Winspear's new Maisie Dobb's book, Leaving Everything Most Loved, as well as a month-long celebration of the rest of the Maisie Dobbs series, I was ecstatic. Choosing which books I wanted to read, (all of them! But I knew I couldn't read all of them in one month and actually enjoy them). took me some time.  I chose the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, to learn who Maisie is and what the series is about, and a more recent book, A Lesson in Secrets, because I  liked the plot and I loved the cover (not the best reason for choosing a book but I've done it before and it's worked for me!) .

When I began reading Maisie Dobbs, I honestly, didn't like it. This book was very different from what I expected.  It was intense, dense and laden with descriptions of everything from people's behavior to decor, both rooms and people, to the view out a window. But now that I've finished it, I feel foolish for having put any expectations on the story when I began reading it.  I really enjoyed this book.   Maisie Dobbs was very different from any other mysteries or criminal investigation stories I've read.  The more I read, the more I enjoyed Maisie's story particularly the character of Maisie.  JacquelingeWinspear creates terrific characters reminiscent of real human beings.  Maisie's father, Frankie, for instance, is a dear older man and a father any woman would love to have.  He adores his daughter and would do anything for her.  I sympathized with him completely and cannot imagine any parent not empathizing with Frankie over the decisions he has to make.  It's obvious Winspear understands people and the behavior of human beings.  She shows an awareness for how complex humans are and makes it clear that what you first see and experience of a person isn't all of which they are composed.  Humans have many underlying layers of personality with both good traits and faults.  I wondered while reading Maisie Dobbs, if Winspear wasn't an author might she be a psychologist or counselor of human beings? It wouldn't surprise me!

 Maisie displays these similar traits of understanding human behavior.  She's aware that there's much more to a person than meets the eye.  Maisie is opening her own  "P.I." business as this story unfolds.  It becomes clear early on (Chapter One) that Maisie is much more that your basic PI as she and her patron (and former employer), Lady Rowton try to figure out what Maisie should name her business.  As the narrative progresses it becomes clear that Maisie has quite a knack for analyzing people' s behavior.  Maisie's behavior, both physical and mental, is described in the utmost detail by Winspear throughout the book.  At first, I wasn't sure why this.  When I focused on the narrative and paid attention, I realized that Maisie's has a knack for understanding how and what people arte feeling, even when they themselves aren't sure.  I was thrilled when i realized Maisie's 'talent' and the situation, especially since one of my few, favorite TV shows is Criminal Minds which concentrates on the cases worked on by attorneys in the FBS's Behavioral Analysis Unit.

Maisie's understanding of people isn't the only reason to like her or to enjoy this book.  Maisie is a serious young woman but she has a great sense of humor and it's worth it to get her laughing. Maisie's from a working-class family.  A sad and debilitating tragedy enables Maisie to begin working for Lady Rowan Compton.  This changes Maisie's life in remarkable ways. But had Maisie not been intelligent, clever and talented, she wouldn't be opening her own business in the Spring of 1929. 

Maisie is sincere, hardworking, kind and very interested in other people.  It's her character that drew me into Winspear's first novel and hooked me on the series. Winspear fashioned an unique character in Maisie but, even more so, an amazing investigator, unlike any other.  Maisie is more interested in her clients and her victims more than any other detecive or investigator I've encountered and learns as much as she can about them.  This is one of the few places I found fault with Winspear's books.  Maisie has more energy and time than everyone else.  Although Winspear writes of Maisie retiring at night, she accomplished more in daylight hours tahn anyone. She's a super-woman.  So far that seems to be her only fault!

I highly recommend Maisie Dobbs to anyone interested in mysteries and criminal investigations as well as British fiction.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.  I will be posting my review of A Lesson in Secrets on Monday, March 24, 2013so long as it fits with TLC Book Tours schedule.  Trish, I apologize to you for posting my reviews on dates other than we discussed.  I hope this is okay.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Penguin Books for the opportunity to read and review Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.