Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Impressions: Maisie Dobbs (Book 1) by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs isn't just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.
"I'm really taken with how the plight of English soldiers, during and after WWI, is depicted in this mystery novel. I'm loving the details, and the characters so far. Just went backward in time to Maisie's childhood and I'm surprised that I'm enjoying that part of it as much as her "present" time."
Those were my first impressions of Maisie Dobbs, Book 1, after having read the first part of the book. Frankly, I was taken with the historical fiction aspect of these mystery novels. Jacqueline Winspear makes much of those small WWI historical details in post-war London that give this novel a unique atmosphere. The characters that populate the novel have all been affected in one way or another by the war, and even ten years later are dealing with its effects.

This first book does contain a mystery, however it's main focus is Maisie Dobbs herself. The character is introduced and her background is thoroughly explored and developed for the reader. In the first part of the book we meet Maisie ten years after the war ended as a newly minted psychologist-investigator working on her first solo case. This is a short section that leaves off with many questions about both the case and Maisie herself.

On the longer and more detailed second part of the book, we flash back to Maisie  as a young, orphaned girl who goes to work at Lord and Lady Compton's household as a downstairs maid. This second part of the book is where Winspear really gets to the nitty gritty details of what makes this main character tick and to the basis of the story. Masie's life is covered from childhood through young adulthood. Her brilliance and intelligence are recognized by the Comptons and rewarded. Lady Compton and Maisie's mentor Maurice Blanche encourage her to study at a college for girls in Cambridge, however at the onset of the war Maisie decides to do her part as a nurse and soon departs for France.

By the time the third part of the book comes along, we know Maisie and most of her story. This is where the mystery is really developed and takes its unexpected turn -- all of it related to the war, the soldiers and the lingering effects of post-war trauma for them and the country itself. There's danger and I enjoyed the investigation part in this section as it reveals part of the history I mentioned before.

I enjoyed this book for its setting, atmosphere and historical fiction details. The time period was certainly a plus for me as well. Maisie as a character is endearing in some sections, but there is a certain restraint and perfection about her that makes it difficult to connect with her character emotionally at certain times. Even when in love, Maisie seems to be a too cautious and measured woman. There's a "new age" aspect to the story and her character that threw me off and didn't seem to fit into this story.

Some of the secondary characters were well developed while others seemed one-dimensional. However, I'm hoping that throughout the series the author will do a better job of characterization on that front. Unexpectedly, I did cry at the end of this book. Those soldiers got to me, and there's a particular story involving Maisie that broke my heart.

Although I wasn't overwhelmed by this first book in the Maisie Dobbs series, I did go on to read the latest release, A Lesson In Secrets, Book 8, as I was curious to see how Maisie fared after all that time, and will read the next release in the series.

Category: Mystery/Historical Fiction
Series: Maisie Dobbs, Book 1
Publisher/Released: Soho Press, July 1, 2003 - Kindle Edition
Grade: Grade B

Visit Jacqueline Winspear here.


  1. Would love to see your comments on the more recent book. I didn't connect with the first one when it came out, and am wondering if I should give the series another try.

  2. Lovely review Hils - thank you. I'm really intrigued - post WWI isn't an era I read much about (unless I could the Flambards books :) I too would love to know your thoughts on the later book.

  3. Victoria what's interesting about this book is that I really enjoyed different aspects of this book, but for some reason when put together as a whole they didn't quite to do it for me. As a character, Maisie was a tough one to connect with and the secondary characters didn't help much. I'll be writing my review for A Lesson in Secrets soon. :D

    Orannia, the time period is one I just love and doesn't get talked about enough. I'll make sure and write about Maisie's latest book. :)

  4. I really liked the first few books (London! Post-WWI setting!), but have not really liked the increasing reliance on Maisie's "paranormal" abilities as opposed to detecting skills.

    I'm on the fence a bit about the latest release - will probably look to borrow from the library when it comes out.

  5. Li, the setting was my favorite part of this book! But, that empathy aspect of Maisie's character was really not to my liking either. I think it's interesting that her title is "psychologist and detective" and not just detective. She relies a lot on psychology and empathy to detect... yes?

  6. I admit the setting isn't one that I've ever been drawn to, but I'm intrigued by this series. Glad you enjoyed the first book.

  7. Ames, the setting is what really drew me to this series! LOL! I had a few problems with the first book, but was sufficiently intrigued as a whole to read that last book and... well, I'll read the next one. Although I don't know if I'll read the rest of the backlist.


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