“That’s one more thing that I detest about war. It’s not over when it ends. Of course, it seems as if everyone’s pally again, what with agreements, the international accords, and contracts and so on. But it still lives inside the living, doesn’t it?”
I like to read books in a series close enough to recall characters and events (depending on the series), but spread out enough to savor each and include other books. With Jacqueline Winspear’s, however, I’m so far behind that I turned to Birds of a Feather just a few months after reading Maisie Dobbs.
Maisie continues with her private investigation agency, even though the 1929 economy has left many others in London out of work. She and her assistant Billy are summoned to find the missing daughter of self-made butchering mogul Joseph Waite. Finding a missing socialite who sparred one too many times with her father seems simple enough, but the case takes on greater urgency when it appears to connect with a murder that Maisie’s friend Detective Inspector Stratton is investigating. To follow her hunches Maisie will have to drive all over the countryside, use her connections as best she can, and even look to events from the Great War for truth. Meanwhile Billy seems to have much that he is reluctant to share with Maisie.
I don’t know if I’m alone in saying that I enjoyed this for atmosphere much more than mystery. While the former is fantastic, Ms. Winspear doesn’t exactly plot in the style that I prefer. For example, we learn that Maisie has found an important clue in the victim’s room, but she doesn’t reveal what it is until much later in the book so that the solution will come as a surprise. In addition, I tend to take Maisie’s intuition with a grain of salt. She would have made a great actress with her belief that body language controls the tension in a room, and mimicking a person’s posture will tell you their feelings. Though effective, her methods strike me as a little too New Age for three quarters of a century ago. What do others think of this?
On the other hand, you can tell that Ms Winspear not only has done thorough research into the post-WWI era but also has the experience of living in England herself, having been born and raised there. At one point she is eating while driving and reaches over with her left hand to open the picnic basket. It took me a moment to make sense of this until I remembered that British cars are the opposite of ours! It’s touches like this that lend realism to the narration. In addition, the shadows of the war continue to color daily life with tinges of sadness in a way that makes my heart ache. For example, Waite’s store has a memorial for the many young employees who joined up together, and all died together when the regiment was attacked.
Finally, I’m torn about Maisie herself. She seems aloof, and so much older than she really is. I’m sure this is intentional, a combination of her natural wisdom and wartime experiences. Luckily Billy is enough to balance her out most of the time. (Als0, Maisie needs to start actually eating food or she will die of starvation. Is this her “punishment”?)
Despite misgivings about Maisie Dobbs the character, I’m sold on Maisie Dobbs the series and will have to read the next one in the near future.