Book Review for “Maisie Dobbs” (Maisie Dobbs Mystery #1) by Jacqueline Winspear.
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.”
Remember my series of posts on reading series? If so, you might recall that this was one of the books I had just started reading at the time. I decided to read this after not falling in love with the Veronica Speedwell book, since I’ve recently been looking for a good mystery series into which I could sink my teeth – a la Agathe Christie. Yes, I know, no one is like Agathe, but still there must be some mystery series out there that have a similar flavor, similar feel – just enough to make us feel less… deprived. While I have to say that this book came very close – closer than any other I’ve read so far – I’m afraid it missed the mark just a little bit.
Let me say that on the positive side, I really liked Maisie. I think she’s an interesting character who, despite her lowly beginnings, is able to rise up and succeed in improving herself. Okay, so she gets there because she’s in the right place at the right time with the right people who recognize her talents and decide to mentor her – that’s not a problem. I also thought that Winspear did a good job of reminding us how much she appreciated how unusually far she was able to go, because of this support. In fact, those times when Maisie felt herself unworthy of such attention really rang true. What felt a bit odd to me, however, was that Winspear also gave Maisie what felt like a touch too much sophistication, especially in the parts where she describes her early life. For example, Maisie isn’t given her father’s lower-class accent, so there’s little to no struggle for Maisie to overcome what should have been an impediment she needed to overcome, in order to elevate her status.
Now, I get that this being the first book in a series, there’s going to be a good deal of background that needs to be included. However, I’m wondering if Winspear didn’t overdo that here. I mean, I’m not sure we needed to hear all the details of Maisie’s education, although the bit where she interrupts it to be a nurse during the Great War was an important part of this story. See, my problem was that it seemed to me that there were the beginnings of a mystery at the start of the book, which gets partially resolved and then it was dropped. That’s when Winspear went off and gave us a huge hunk of the background, only after which we get back to the rest of the mystery. I’d say that while half of the book is the mystery that Maisie is asked to solve, it was split between the first quarter and the last quarter of this book. The whole middle wasn’t connected to the mystery at all. I’m wondering if some of it could have been held aside to be included in future novels in this series.
Despite this, I actually enjoyed the whole book, mostly because I liked Winspear’s writing style, which was just descriptive enough to help me picture the action (which is always a plus for me). So, although I don’t think I’ve found my next “Agathe Christie” I found this a much more satisfactory attempt than any of the others I’ve tried so far (well, with the exception of Tara Moss’s Billie Walker, which I think is one series I’m going to love, but so far, it isn’t really a Christie-like series). In fact, I’ll probably buy the second book in this series because of the potential I see here. I just hope that in the second book the mystery is a larger part and that the background is just that – in the background. This is why I think that although I can still recommend this novel – mostly because I do like the somewhat enigmatic Maisie, and the writing is so nice – I’m only going to give it three and a half stars out of five.
“Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.