Book Review for “Birds of a Feather” by Jacqueline Winspear.
Summary: “An eventful year has passed for Maisie Dobbs. Since starting a one-woman private investigation agency in 1929 London, she now has a professional office in Fitzroy Square and an assistant, the happy-go-lucky Billy Beale. She has proven herself as a psychologist and investigator, and has even won over Detective Inspector Stratton of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad—an admirable achievement for a woman who worked her way from servant to scholar to sleuth, and who also served as a battlefield nurse in the Great War. It’s now the early Spring of 1930. Stratton is investigating a murder case in Coulsden, while Maisie has been summoned to Dulwich to find a runaway heiress. The woman is the daughter of Joseph Waite, a wealthy self-made man who has lavished her with privilege but kept her in a gilded cage. His domineering ways have driven her off before, and now she’s bolted again. Waite’s instructions are to find his daughter and bring her home. When Maisie looks into the disappearance she finds a chilling link to Stratton’s murder case, and to the terrible legacy of The Great War.This book is about or use the Goodreads blurb.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Mystery, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London and other nearby locations; Other Categories: Novel, Series, Sequel, Feminism, Murder.
Okay so, yes, I wasn’t all that impressed with the first Maisie Dobbs book (although I did like it), but you see, a whole bunch of my fellow book bloggers have been faithfully following this series, and the 17th of them was recently published. Well, with all the praise that everyone was heaping on these novels, I decided that maybe I was a bit too harsh, and I should give our Miss Dobbs a second chance. Thankfully, I found a practically pristine used copy at a reasonable price, so if I decided to throw this in the trash, I wouldn’t feel I’d lost too much in the process. And you know what? I’m glad I bought it, and I’m starting to think that Maisie might be growing on me!
Yes, I’m still not thrilled at how posh Maisie seems to act, considering her relatively lowly beginnings. Sure, anyone can dress the part, and learn how to speak more upper-class; but it still doesn’t sit right with me that at least part of her history doesn’t filter through from time to time – not even when she’s with her father. Mind you, in this book we do see Maisie visiting the downstairs and sitting with a couple of women who work for her, for a meal or quick snack. But she notes that these women aren’t comfortable with this to begin with, and Maisie herself feels a bit out of water. She also still feels strange being waited upon by these women who used to be her peers, yet more than comfortable among the high-born people with whom she is involved. Obviously, this dilemma will straighten itself out in time, but I’m not sure I’ll ever totally accept it. This could be the reason why I feel unable to totally connect with Maisie – at least for now.
With this second book, we get a slightly more twisted plot than with the first one, and we also see how seemingly unrelated incidents get dragged into Maisie’s investigation. Also, since we don’t need all the introductions and background, this book gets off to a much faster start than the debut novel. That means that there’s more of the case in this book, which allowed Winspear to make a more complex story. I truly appreciated this, and enjoyed the way this also allowed Winspear to get a bit more into her assistant Billy’s life and his own troubles, from being an injured war vet. Mind you, there were a couple of things about Billy that felt a bit forced as well, but they were mostly minor, and I was glad that Billy remained true to his own voice, and that Winspear gave him just enough of an accent to set his status without being unintelligible.
Most importantly, Winspear doesn’t make any of her characters one dimensional, and there are things we like and dislike with both the ones unique to this story, and the recurring characters such as the police persons she’s in contact with – Stratton and Caldwell. Admittedly, the person who “done it” was actually someone I didn’t suspect until nearly the point when Maisie reveals the criminal, which is something that was a rarity for me, and certain boded well for this book. I think that I can recommend this book, and I’ll probably want to read more of this series – when a reasonably priced copy shows up. For all this, I think I’ll give it four out of five stars (an improvement from the 3.5 from the first book)!
This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), 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 and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#26).