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Maisie Dobbs    by Jacqueline Winspear order for
Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear
Order:  USA  Can
Soho, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Anglophiles, and mystery fans in general, have a real treat in store with Jacqueline Winspear's first book Maisie Dobbs, set in 1929 England. Its heroine has seen a great deal in her thirty years. At the age of thirteen, she went into service for a wealthy London family. There she soon caught the attention of her employer Lady Rowan Compton, an enlightened middle-aged woman wishing to do more for those less fortunate. Recognizing Maisie's burning desire to better herself, Lady Compton arranged for her old friend Maurice Blanche to tutor Maisie in the time that she was able to spare from her duties.

Maurice Blanche is a great intellectual, with experience as a private investigator for the wealthy, as well as for the government during World War I. In addition to more conventional studies, Blanche imparted to Maisie 'the forensic science of the whole person' and taught her to fully appreciate and use her intellect. With Blanche's tutelage, Maisie was able to enter Cambridge University's Girton College for women. However, after attending for only one year, Maisie (like millions of other young Britons of her day) felt compelled to serve her country during the war. So she left college, and was soon sent to France as a nurse.

The novel begins in 1929 after Maisie has been back in England for more than ten years. She learned enough from Blanche to be able to set herself up as a private investigator. One of her first cases involves tracing the history of a mysterious man, a former soldier who has died under suspicious circumstances at a retreat set up for severely injured veterans. As she investigates, Maisie is drawn back into the past and the reader learns about her own background, including a very troubled time during the war.

Maisie is a wonderfully-drawn protagonist, a woman wise beyond her years. Her past has made her empathize with the many people still suffering the after-effects of the war. 'It was the wounds of the mind that touched her, those who still fought their battles again and again each day, though the country was at peace'. As both a seeker of truth and a healer, Maisie is able to bring comfort to many whose lives she touches.

Maisie Dobbs is reminiscent of the excellent Charles Todd series (in which Inspector Ian Rutledge suffers from his World War I experiences to the extent that he is haunted by alter-ego Hamish, who will not let him forget the war). But Winspear brings a complementary female perspective to bear on this very traumatic time in British history. We can only hope she will continue to write many more Maisie Dobbs books, which are a welcome new addition to the mystery field.

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