30 December 2007

An Extraordinary Woman

• Maisie Dobbs
• Birds of a Feather
• Pardonable Lies
• Messengers of Truth

by Jacqueline Winspear

I owe my first purchase of a Maisie Dobbs book to a book blog; I know not which one, although I believe it is Dani Torres'. Whomever it was, I owe them thanks. I wasn't forty pages into it when I said, "I have got to buy the rest of these." Once a day, with precious 30 percent off coupons at Borders, I bought each of the rest, and when I reached the halfway point in the fourth book, I came to the sad realization that I was almost finished with Maisie's saga so far and I didn't want to let her go.

Maisie, the thirteen year old daughter of a costermonger, is stricken with another blow after her beloved mother dies: her father cannot afford to continue her schooling. The intelligent girl instead goes into service in the home of Lady Rowan, who is in favor of progressive education. Finding Maisie studying in her library early in the morning before her chores commence, Lady Rowan arranges Maisie to be tutored by Maurice Blanche, who teaches her using the Socratic method. Maisie eventually qualifies for Cambridge, where she studies until World War I breaks out; she then becomes a nurse and, on the battlefront, falls in love with one of the doctors. But disaster strikes, and a postwar Maisie is at loose ends—until she opens an investigative agency. For an assistant, she hires working class Billy Beale, originally the caretaker of the building in which she leases office space.

Each of the Maisie Dobbs stories involves some repercussion from World War I in postwar England and each are absorbing character studies as well as mysteries; they slightly remind me of Dorothy Sayers in the detail of everyday life in 1920s London and environs, and there is also an echo of Anne Perry's Reavley family mysteries (No Graves as Yet) that take place during the war.

The biggest problem with Maisie? The next book isn't out until February! It is one I will be purchasing in hardback.