British women mystery authors have brought much joy to readers over the last century. Following in the tradition of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, P. D. James, and others is now Jacqueline Winspear with her series of mystery novels featuring personal investigator Maisie Dobbs. Unlike many of her predecessors, Winspear is writing from the United States, where she has lived since 1990. Maisie Dobbs: A Novel was published in 2003. I have been handing it out to readers for several years but just now finally read it myself. Why did I wait so long?
Winspear's novel starts in 1929 as Maisie starts her own detective agency. She had been the assistant of Maurice Blanche, an academic man whose expertise had been for hire for an unspecified number of years. He had also been Maisie's tutor since her days as a young maid discovered by her employer Lady Rowan reading in the library in the wee hours of the morning. The prospects for a young woman up from poverty to succeed in a man's business world are not encouraging, but Maisie is determined.
Maisie Dobbs is a book divided in thirds with the middle section taking readers back into the heroine's past. In doing so, it examines divisions in British society before World War I and the great changes of the war. A mystery is introduced in the first section and solved in the third. In some senses, the mystery is not even needed to sustain the reader. Winspear's evocation of Britain in the 1910s and 1920s and her descriptions of Maisie's life can hold their own without the mystery. Readers, however, do ultimately enjoy having Maisie use her learning, so the mystery is welcomed.
I appreciated Maisie's loyalty to her father and the concern she shows for both her clients and the people she investigates. Readers can not help but love her.
Maisie Dobbs is a hard first act to follow. I am now eager to see how well Jacqueline Winspear has continued the story with her sequels.
Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs: A Novel. Soho Press, 2003. 294p. ISBN 1569473307.