Book Review: Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs

Posted June 20, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs


Jacqueline Winspear

This historical mystery is a paperback edition that was published by Penguin on May 25, 2004 and has 309 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, An Incomplete Revenge, A Lesson in Secrets, The Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, A Dangerous Place, Journey to Munich, In This Grave Hour

First in the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series set in the time period before and after World War I.

In 2004, Maisie Dobbs won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and the ALA Alex Award. It was nominated for the Barry Award for Best First Novel, the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and the Dilys Award. In 2003, Maisie Dobbs won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

My Take

Maisie Dobbs is a sometimes confusing collection of flashbacks which fill us in on Maisie’s journey up through her first solo case as a private detective. The noble family that employs young Maisie recognizes her intelligence and is more interested in promoting it than in getting another hour’s work out of her. A truly radical concept for early 1900s England. REALLY radical.

This was incredible. Just. Wow. It’s one family stretching out a hand to help another. Upper class to lower. It’s Maisie’s journey from costermonger’s daughter to Cambridge graduate via a stint as a Voluntary Aid nurse at the battlefields in World War I to psychological detective.

A positive story that had me crying my eyes out every few chapters. It always takes me that way when war is involved. As much as I love to read about battles, strategies, and the camaraderie of the field, I hate the pointless losses and if I had to pick just one war overflowing with pointlessness, it would be World War I. I hate that the lives of regular people who have no say are the ones who have to pay for the power-mad elite.

It’s an odd story in that it combines the zen of meditation and self-awareness with solving crimes. I absolutely love the strictures that Maisie passes on to us that Maurice has spent so many years teaching her. It’s such a peaceful approach to crime fighting and I just love it.

It’s a tease of a story with Winspear dropping tidbits of information along the path. I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know what happened next! I must confess that I had to stop after this story and read a few other funnier books…it was just so sad.

Maisie uses psychology to understand those around her, to get under their skin. She mirrors their stance to evoke a sympathy between her and them. There’s some good technique in here that I’d like to incorporate into my own life, a generosity of spirit.

There’s one short blip in which Winspear has the dreaded envy rise up, but then she shuts it down so fast I have to wonder why she bothered.

The Story

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence — and the patronage of her benevolent employerss — he 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.

The Characters

Maisie Dobbs and her da’, Francis, are just getting by since the death of her mother, his beloved wife. Her parents’ dream of Maisie furthering her education is gone with the savings they used to try and save her mother. Frankie’s only hope now is to get her into a good household where she’ll be safe should something happen to him.

Lady Rowan Compton is an unusual woman for her times. Pushed by an old friend, Dr. Maurice Blanche, to go beyond her boundaries, Maurice encourages her to look beyond herself. To make a difference in the world. Lord Julian is her very tolerant husband and something in the War Office. Master James is their only child and suffering from melancholy brought on by the war and the loss of his love. Mr. Carter is the butler and Mrs. Crawford is Cook. Enid is one of the housemaids and shares a room with Maisie. They and the rest of the servants have a soft spot for one of their own, even if she has been elevated.

Dr. Basil Khan is a friend of Maurice’s and he teaches Maisie how to see without her eyes, to meditate. Billie Beale is a young soldier whose leg was saved by Maisie and Simon at the battlefield. Serendipity now finds Billie available in Maisie’s first detective office. A harbinger of the future.

Captain Simon Lynch is a doctor who cares and does his best for the men at the front. It’s Priscilla Evernden, a mate at Cambridge, who introduces Maisie to Simon. And it’s Pris’ example that Maisie follows once Enid lays down that challenge.

Christopher Davenham is Maisie’s first client. A reluctant client for he was not expecting a woman, but he decides to trust his solicitor, Joseph Robinson, who recommended her. It’s Claire Davenham who unpeels the first layer of a rotting onion. A layer named Vincent.

The Retreat is a French concept. A place where badly disfigured men can retire from an embarrassed society, where they can be accepted. Major Adam Jenkins has brought a variation on this idea to the Kent countryside. Only, something about it is wrong and Lady Rowan’s only son plans to retreat to this farm.

Detective Inspector Stratton is impressed with Maisie’s work at The Retreat. Annoyed, but understanding of the need for haste.

The Title

The title is that of our heroine, Maisie Dobbs.


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