The Short Version: Maisie Dobbs’ first adventure, in which we spend just about half of the book finding out who Maisie is, another quarter of the book establishing Maisie’s present, and a final quarter solving a mystery that seemed a little bit more important than it actually was.
The Review: So here’s another established detective series that has popped up now and then but I’ve never picked up til now. Post-WWI, London, Mystery… all things I love, but (slightly sexist confession) its quite rare that I can get fully onboard with a female detective. Something about them never feels natural. There are a few exceptions: Izzy Spellman and Cassie Maddox immediately spring to mind – but they’re almost exceptions that prove the rule. I was just worried that a female detective in the late ’20s in London would just be… well, a genre exercise. Happily, Maisie doesn’t quite fit any of the stereotypes that you’d plan to lob at her. She’s incredibly smart, beautiful, plucky, resilient, and all of those things… but she’s real. She feels real – a real person with real problems, not a girl-playing-dress-up as so many female detectives seem to be. Sorry if that offends you, that’s just the way I see it.
Anyway, the book is not-quite-evenly bisected by a major flashback to establish Maisie’s life before she got started with her own private detective firm. This flashback is perhaps the best part of the book – a little bit Atonement, a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Upstairs, Downstairs and Gosford Park. The biggest problem with it is that, because it runs quite long, you end up sort of losing the plot when the ‘present’ returns. It took me a few moments to put the pieces in order – and even then, I was too busy wondering about the mysteries still remaining in Maisie’s life to really devote my full attention to the current mystery.
That current mystery, by the way, seems to be a bit… well, far-fetched. There’s just something about it that all felt a bit rushed. A former soldier has started a place for wounded soldiers to go and live peacefully outside of society but he might be killing them when they ask to leave. I get the whole “he was psychologically disturbed and this was his way of working it out” thing but it just felt a little too Indiana Jones-lite, to be honest. That’s what I kept thinking of, anyway. It wasn’t a bad plot, but it all felt a little too coincidental and a little too haphazard to’ve really been plausible.
I’m curious to see where Maisie goes, however. She’s a fascinating and engaging character – and she’s got a crackerjack backup cast, including her dad, Lady Rowan, Maurice, and Billy. There are seven(?) more books currently available and I’m assuming the series will go on for some time more – and about this, I’m very excited. It’s not everyday you find a series that you truly believe will keep your interest for years to come.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A very well-written turn-of-the-century London leaps off the page, as do most of the characters. The atmosphere alone is enough to keep me coming back – especially when I’m so far from London without any knowledge of when I’ll possibly be able to return. I hope that this book was a sort of “first case” for Winspear as well as Dobbs and that later books will provide stronger cases to match the impressive character development. I don’t know why I’m surprised to say it… but I am, yes, mad for Maisie!