2004, Historical Mystery (1929 London)
Penguin, $15.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0142004332 Part of a series
I really enjoy stories set during World War I and afterward, and am always looking for new ones. One day at the library, I saw a book on display titled Maisie Dobbs. The cover picture featured a young woman wearing a cloche hat, and the blurb promised an interesting story. I checked it out and ended up reading the whole thing in one night. To my delight, it turned out to be the first in a series, and the next day, I went back to the library to get more. I love this series and have been recommending it to everyone.
The story begins in 1929 in London where Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, is launching her own business. Maisieís first case seems to be a fairly simple one - a man suspects his wife is having an affair and he wants her to discover if his suspicions are correct. Maisieís investigation turns up the answer to the manís suspicions. It seems his wife has been paying visits to a cemetery where the young man she loved and lost in the war is buried. In this cemetery, there are also a number of gravestones with only a single name on them. The names lead Maisie to The Retreat, a building that is ostensibly a private nursing home catering to men who are still suffering mentally and physically from the war. Maisie served as a nurse in France, and she can sense there is something not right, so with the help of her assistant Billy Beale, she sets out to discover what is actually going on at The Retreat.
Maisie Dobbs gives the reader a wonderful portrait of society before, during and after the war. The book is punctuated with flashbacks that show the reader how Maisie became the woman she is now. When her mother died while Maisie was still a young teen, her grieving father sent her into service at the home of the Compton family. When Lady Rowan Compton discovered young Maisie in the library engrossed in books, she arranged for her to be tutored by her friend Dr. Maurice Blanche, a scientist and philosopher. Maurice became a mentor and second father to Maisie, and she soaked up knowledge, eventually gaining a scholarship to Girton College. When the war broke out, Maisie volunteered as a nurse and her life was changed forever.
We have lost touch with just how devastating World War I was to Britain and the European continent. An entire generation of young men was killed, and many of the survivors were left wounded in body and mind. The war dealt a blow to the class system in Britain and for the first time, middle class women entered the workforce in large numbers. All this social upheaval is explored in Maisie Dobbs and its sequels. Maisie began in service, but now is a business owner and successful, independent woman. During the course of her investigations, Maisie meets many men who are too wounded to work and bitter over how the government has neglected them. Maisie herself suffers from a mild case of PTSD and she bears the scars from her own wounds. History books tell about the effects of the war, but its novels like this one that truly bring it home.
If you enjoy mysteries with historical backgrounds, this is the book for you. Maisie Dobbs is a vivid and realistic character who is growing and changing as the books progress, and in the last one she is about to embark on a romantic relationship. In the latest book, A Lesson In Secrets itís 1932, and Maisie is consulting with Scotland Yard and the Special Branch about the rise of fascism. I donít know exactly where Maisie will end up, but I do know I plan to follow this series as long as it goes.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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