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Posts Tagged ‘Jacqueline Winspear’

leaving everything most loved maisie dobbs

Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite fictional detectives. I love her deep compassion and sensitivity, her probing mind and brave spirit, and her struggle to define herself as an independent woman in 1920s and 1930s London.

Trained as a nurse and wounded (physically and mentally) by World War I, Maisie sets up her own business as a psychologist and investigator, some years after the war. Her tenth adventure, Leaving Everything Most Loved (out tomorrow), finds her investigating the murders of two Indian women in London, and weighing some big personal questions.

An Indian man approaches Maisie about the murder of his sister, Usha Pramal, who came to Britain as a governess and later lived in a hostel with other Indian women, taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet. By all accounts, Usha was a well-educated woman and a radiant spirit, touching everyone she knew with her kindness. Who would kill such a glowing soul, and why?

As Maisie seeks to unravel the threads of Usha’s life, another young woman from the hostel is killed. Meanwhile, Maisie worries that the strain of her last case is still affecting her longtime assistant, Billy Beale, and finds herself (still) wondering whether she can commit to marrying James, the man she loves.

Winspear writes sensitively of Maisie’s inner struggles, with nods to previous cases and Maisie’s personal history, from scullery maid to college student, war nurse to private investigator. Longtime readers of the series will appreciate a subplot or two involving familiar characters, while new readers will warm to Maisie and her thoughtful, incisive method of detecting.

This book had an Indian flavor, partly because of the murder victims and partly due to Maisie’s growing interest in the country. I loved the references to saris and spices, and Maisie’s first attempt at cooking curry. (There are Indian restaurants all over England now, but this certainly wasn’t the case in 1933.)

Well written, fascinating and layered (like all Winspear’s books), Leaving Everything Most Loved provides both a satisfying mystery and an intriguing new adventure for its heroine.

I’m participating in TLC Book Tours’ Month of Maisie Blog Tour. I received a free copy of this book for review; opinions, of course, are my own. I’ll also be reviewing the book for Shelf Awareness.

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Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline WinspearLast winter, I joined a read-along of the Maisie Dobbs series at Book Club Girl’s fabulous blog. I’d somehow missed hearing about Maisie before, but as soon as I picked up the first novel in the series, which traces her adventures as a psychologist and investigator in post-World War I London, I was hooked.

I’ve now followed Maisie through eight books, a career change (from World War I battlefield nurse to private investigator), several romantic relationships, and various locations in England and France (though the series centers on London and Kent). And I’m so pleased to be reviewing Elegy for Eddie, the ninth installment in the series, as part of TLC Book Tours’ March is Maisie Month.

Elegy for Eddie opens in 1933, in the uncertain period between the wars, when many Londoners still carry scars, physical and emotional, from the Great War of 1914-18. (I love these books partly because they have broadened and deepened my understanding of World War I. Stories of this era seem to be everywhere right now, thanks to Downton Abbey and various books, but before discovering Maisie I hadn’t read much about this war.)

Maisie is, by now, a well-established private investigator, but she has never arrived at the office to find five costermongers (fruit and vegetable sellers) waiting for her, asking her to take on a case. However, that’s exactly what happens in the first scene, and it turns out that Eddie Pettit, a gentle, slightly “slow” man whom Maisie knew as a child, has been killed. The men who come to Maisie’s office, former colleagues of her father, believe he was murdered, and they ask Maisie to investigate.

This case is more personal for Maisie than most, since she knows the victim and must return to the streets of Lambeth, where she grew up, to ask questions about his death. She traces Eddie’s connections – and the information he might have been hiding – to a powerful press baron, several politicians, and a writer who happens to be married to her best friend.

The paradox of Eddie’s humble origins and his brush with power dovetails nicely with the increasing tension in Maisie’s personal life. She began her career as a maid and has worked her way up to a comfortable middle-class existence, but is dating James Compton, son of the house where she once worked in service. Their different origins, and ways of looking at the world, are putting a strain on the relationship, and Maisie struggles with some difficult personal questions as she works to solve the mystery of Eddie’s death.

I love the whole Maisie series – they are, for me, a perfect blend of history and mystery, with a spunky yet thoughtful heroine and a lively cast of supporting characters (I particularly like Billy, Maisie’s assistant). I went to the Harvard Book Store last spring to see Jacqueline Winspear read from A Lesson in Secrets, and I’m planning to go next week to hear her read from Elegy for Eddie.

Have you read the Maisie books? What do you think of them?

NB: This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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When Book Club Girl announced her read-along of the Maisie Dobbs series back in December, I was intrigued. Usually I’ve at least heard of popular series even if I haven’t read them, but somehow Maisie and her creator, Jacqueline Winspear, had escaped my notice. I found the first book in the series at the Brattle, took it as a sign and bought it – and well, I was hooked. You might say I’m “mad for Maisie.”

I’ve spent a good part of this winter following Maisie’s adventures around 1920s/1930s London, with frequent trips to Kent and occasional ventures to France and other locales. She’s a psychologist and private investigator, and she is smart, strong, independent and determined – one of a generation of women who survived the Great War and then built their own lives in new and unexpected ways.

The books are full of fascinating period detail, from clothes to accents to social mores, and the supporting cast of characters is rich and compelling. (I especially love Billy Beale, Maisie’s cheerful Cockney assistant; Frankie Dobbs, her steadfast, loving father; and Priscilla, her socialite college chum who has her own demons to fight.) As much historical fiction as mystery, these books are filling an important gap for me; I hadn’t read much fiction about World War I and its aftermath until lately. (Except Rilla of Ingleside, which has done more for my understanding of the Great War than any other book, fiction or nonfiction.)

Jacqueline Winspear came recently to the Harvard Book Store to read from the latest Maisie adventure, A Lesson in Secrets. I talked my sweet husband into coming straight from work on a Friday night to hear an author whose books he hasn’t read, and bless him, he agreed, and even enjoyed himself. As for me? I was in heaven.

Like any author worth her salt, Ms. Winspear didn’t give away the plot of her new book – fortunately for me, since I hadn’t yet read it. Instead, she talked about a few of the threads weaving through the whole series, including the legacy of the Great War in England, the shifting social mores of the time, a bit of family history (her grandparents bore scars, physical and otherwise, from the war), and her own interest in secrets and mysteries. And then, in her clear, pleasant English accent, she read us a brief passage from A Lesson in Secrets. I was spellbound. I wish I could have written down every word.

I did speak with her briefly afterward, feeling tongue-tied (as I always do when I meet authors I admire), but managing to tell her I love her work, and mention my time in Oxford, as she signed a couple of books for me and one for a friend. And I didn’t tell her this, but it’s true: next time she’s on a Maisie tour, I hope she comes back this way.

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