Thursday, May 5, 2011
In A Lesson in Secrets Maisie is again coming to terms with loss, except this time she's dealing with the death of her long time mentor Maurice Blanche, as well as with the fact that she is now a young woman of independent means. Her personal life has also taken a new turn, as Maisie has entered into an affair with James Compton, Lord and Lady Compton's son. So, this is an adult and very different Maisie indeed.
Maisie has been recruited by the British Secret Service to help investigate St. Francis College and she returns to Cambridge where anti-government activities are suspected. Scotland Yard is also investigating illegal immigration as a possibility. So while James is off to Canada taking care of business, Maisie goes undercover at the college posing as a philosophy professor.
I like that this continues to be a historical fiction mystery series. This story is set in the period between WWI and the beginnings of what will become WWII. Hitler is just beginning to stir in Germany as his book Mein Kampf has been published. A murder takes place soon after Maisie joins the college staff and the investigation is off. Maisie discoveries include Nazi sympathizers, and while the British Secret Service concentrates on the Communist "red" threat, Maisie has her doubts. The investigation takes quite a few twists and turns with Maisie doing most of the investigative under cover work.
What did I like? As with the first book, I liked the historical fiction aspect of A Lesson in Secrets, the setting and atmosphere. I think those are the strengths of this series so far. The plot is also quite interesting and I like that it was two-pronged, involving the crime investigation into the death of a pacifist which brought the readers into the WWI conflict, while details uncovered during the same crime investigation took a different turn by showing how seemingly insignificant and ignored events would later become significant moments in history, bringing the readers into what would become the WWII conflict. Both of these plot lines were really very well done and I highly enjoyed them.
What didn't I like? Maisie as the main character continues to be tough to relate or connect to on different levels. To a certain extent, she almost seems to be emotionally disconnected from those around her, although she's portrayed as a kind person with a psychic empathic connection to others. I don't "feel" it though -- there's a distance there that doesn't make it seem real.
Maisie's detecting skills are also questionable in this story. She's under cover and yet by the time she was in the college a week, I would have been surprised if most of the key characters didn't know it! Hush, hush was the word... and yet she didn't exactly know how to keep things on a confidential level. Her detecting tactics are quite obvious and I admit to being frustrated with them.
I liked some of the secondary characters, particularly Scotland Yard Detective Richard Stratton whose presence in the story was strongly felt even though he was not quite key. Is it me, or is there more chemistry between Stratton and Maisie than between Maisie and James? I was left wanting more of this character and less of James.
In summary I highly enjoyed the plot, the setting and atmosphere in this book, as well as some of the secondary characters. The main character remains the one average aspect of this series, and I find it interesting that I want to continue reading it despite that fact. It goes to show how important writing, plotting, setting, atmosphere and secondary characters can be to a story.
Series: Maisie Dobbs (Book #8)
Published: March 22, 2011
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Maisie Dobbs (Book 1)
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
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.