Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (trade, $14) (c2003)

Maisie Dobbs is the first in Jacqueline Winspear's tender and insightful mystery series. The eponymous heroine is a female private investigator during the period after World War I.

It is a series about class: Maisie is born to a working class family, but manages to become educated and trained to be a zen-like observer of human nature. It is about the war and its aftermath: Maisie saw terrible things as a volunteer nurse virtually on the front lines in France. It is unexpectedly about hope: Winspear twists the traditional private eye formula in which the p.i. dusts off his hands after having solved the mystery; her heroine accepts a case only if she thinks her client will use the knowledge responsibly.

Winspear's characters – from Maisie's caring father to her unflappable mentor to her levelheaded nursing tent-mate – receive treatment as full-blown characters, no matter how brief their tenure. Maisie herself starts downstairs as a maid but, as a result of the war and increasing acknowledgment of class inequality, gains an opportunity to "better" herself. In the confusion of post-war Britain, Maisie must define herself in a society whose definitions are changing.

This is a highly recommended book for its thoughtful and unusual story.

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