Summary: Hailed by NPR’s Fresh Air as part Testament of Youth, part Dorothy Sayers, and part Upstairs, Downstairs, this astonishing debut has already won fans from coast to coast and is poised to add Maisie Dobbs to the ranks of literature’s favorite sleuths.
Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she 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. — from Goodreads
I’m mad for Maisie. Which, by the way, is the name of Book Club Girl’s read-along. I’ve had it wrong in all my past posts. Sorry, Jennifer. But anyway, back to Maisie. I have to thank my sister, Susan, for introducing Maisie to me a few years back. Now, she’s one of my favorite characters. We meet her as she’s starting her “Discreet Cerebral Investigations” after being sponsored in her education and business by her former employer, Lady Rowen Compton. The story travels back and forth between Maisie’s days in service for Lady Compton, through her education with Maurice Blanche, a doctor who teaches her, not medicine, but the study of human nature. We see her survive her volunteer service in WWI and the tragedies it brought to everyone.
With stories like this I always wonder how accurate they are in their portrait of how women in non-traditional roles. Could a woman who was once a maid be accepted as a private detective? But, with Maisie, I don’t really care. And Winspear deals with this in two ways. First, and most important, is WWI, which changed the class system forever. When men from all stations served along side one another and women were now taking non-traditional jobs and were paid more than they ever were before. The second is Maisie’s sponsorship by Lady Compton and Maurice Blanche. After she is discovered reading in the library of the house where she is part of the “downstairs” staff, instead of being sacked she is given an education.
There are two connected mysteries; the first being where does Celia Devanham spend her days? Is she having an affair? The answer leads to the second, deeper mystery. What goes on at the “Retreat”, where severely wounded soldiers can go to live their lives in peace? Is it simply a place to care for these tragic men or is there something much more sinister going on?
While the mystery is an important part of the story and ends up being connected to Maisie’s own history in France during the war it really is secondary in my book to introducing the cast of characters. To help her with this mystery she has to enlist the aid of Billy Beale, the handy man in the building where Maisie has her office. His past connection with Maisie will make him a loyal assistant and the perfect person to help her solve this challenge.
All the continuing characters are just wonderful. I love Maisie’s father Frankie, who puts her “in service” in order to improve her life. Little did he know how much improved Maisie’s live would become. Maisie Dobbs in a wonderful introductory novel for a series. I was completely pulled into Maisie’s world and want to know what will happen to her, Billy, Frankie, Lady Compton, and the rest. The downstairs staff characters are all just as full as the leads. I’ve already started the next in the series and without giving any spoilers I can tell you I’m enjoying it just as much as the first.
The Book Club Girl will begin posting her discussion questions for her read-along today. So, if you’ve had a chance to read Maisie head on over to read and answer some interesting questions.
This is the first book for my reading challenges and fits into two. Both the Book Junkie’s Bookshelf’s Support Your Local Library Challenge and Book Chick City’s Mystery and Suspense Challenge. One down and I don’t know how many to go. Yippee me!