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Maisie Dobbs (Winspear)

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs series #1)
Jacqueline Winspear, 2003
Penguin Group USA
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780142004333


Summary 
Maisie Dobbs entered domestic service in 1910 at thirteen, working for Lady Rowan Compton. When her remarkable intelligence is discovered by her employer, Maisie becomes the pupil of Maurice Blanche, a learned friend of the Comptons.

In 1929, following an apprenticeship with Blanche, Maisie hangs out her shingle: M. DOBBS, TRADE AND PERSONAL INVESTIGATIONS. She soon becomes enmeshed in a mystery surrounding The Retreat, a reclusive community of wounded WWI veterans. At first, Maisie only suspects foul play, but she must act quickly when Lady Rowan's son decides to sign away his fortune and take refuge there.

Maisie hurriedly investigates, uncovering a disturbing mystery, which, in an astonishing denouement, gives Maisie the courage to confront a ghost that has haunted her for years. (From the publisher.)


Author Bio 
Birth—April 30, 1955
Where—Weald of Kent, England, UK
Education—University of London's Institute of Education
Awards—Alex Award for Best First Novel
Currently—lives in Ojai, California, USA


Lovers of British mysteries and historical novels will find something to appreciate in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books. Maisie, a housemaid-turned-student-turned-nurse-turned private investigator in early 20th-century London, manages to straddle Britain's class system by being a woman of exceptional "bearing" and intellect who happens to come from working-class stock. As an investigator, she's green, but sharp and ambitious. She's also surrounded by vividly sketched secondary players, such as her benefactor, Lady Rowan, and mentor Maurice Blanche.

In Winspear's first Maisie story, we learn the character's background: Forced by family circumstances to go to work as a housemaid at an early age, Maisie Dobbs' curiosity and intellect are noticed by her employer, Lady Rowan. Rowan takes care of her education, and she makes it to university but the Great War interrupts her ambitions. She serves as a nurse in France, then returns to England and starts her career as a private investigator in 1929. Her first case seems like a simple investigation into infidelity; it grows into something larger when it leads realizes there's something amiss at a convalescent home for war veterans called The Retreat.

Winspear's talent didn't go unnoticed when her first novel was published in July 2003. Maisie Dobbs was named in "best" lists in both the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. It was also nominated in the best novel category for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. There was an almost palpable sense of relief in the reviews, pleasant surprise that someone had offered not only a solid addition to the historical mystery genre, but had given it further depth and breadth. As an NPR reviewer put it, "[The book's] intelligent eccentricity offers relief."

Telling Maisie's stories using a warm third-person narrator, Winspear charms with her ability to convey the historical context surrounding her characters, particularly regarding the impact of the Great War. For this reason, and because her mysteries steer clear of graphic violence or sex, her books are often recommended for younger readers also. Far from hardboiled, Winspear's characters are very human, and she delivers a little romance and heartache along with the criminal wrongdoing.

Part of the appeal in Winspear's books also lies in her ability to bring a deeper, more philosophical atmosphere to the proceedings. Maisie is trained in Freudian psychology and is as interested in helping as she is in solving. A case referenced in the second Maisie story, Birds of a Feather, for example, "would not be filed away until those whose lives were touched by her investigation had reached a certain peace with her findings, with themselves, and with one another." Reading Winspear's Dobbs series may not bring inner peace, but there is something relaxing about spending time with her appealing characters.|

Extras
From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview

• Winspear also works as a creative coach. She writes on her web site, "As a coach I am engaged by those who want to establish clear intentions for their artistic endeavors, to support and encourage so that they sustain a level of energy and empowerment which is demonstrated in work that is rewarding, inspiring—and finished!" Winspear also writes about international education.

• Winspear loves outdoor pursuits such as horseback riding, hiking, sailing, and mountain biking; she's also an avid traveler, according to her web site bio.

• Her first ever job after college was as a flight attendant. "I wanted to travel and could not afford it, so I decided to get myself a job where I could travel. I did it for two years and had great fun."

• Her worst-ever job was in an egg-packing factory when she was 16.

• She love dogs, horses and generally all animals. "I will always stop to check on stray dogs—I once ended up in the emergency room with a tick embedded in me which had jumped off a dog I had rescued from a busy road. It was a deer tick, which carries Lyme Disease, so I wasn't taking any chances. Funnily enough, when I opened the only magazine in the emergency room, it was to a page carrying an article on tick bites and disease. It stated that you have six hours after the tick embeds itself, before it begins to release the bacteria that cause disease. I counted the hours from rescuing the dog, and by the time the doctor came in I was pleading, 'Get this thing out of me!!!'"

• Her favorite way to unwind is to go for a walk with her husband and the dog at the end of the working day, then they go to their local health club for a swim and to sit by the pool and read for a while. "I love time with family and friends, but completely relish time on my own when I have no agenda to follow, no to-do's, just me and time alone."

• When asked what book most influenced her life or career as a writer, here is what she said:

I love to read and have been an avid reader since the age of about three. However, I cannot say any one book ever impacted my writing career. I never read a book that made me want to be a writer per se; rather it was the love of words and what I could do with them that made me want to be a writer. So in that way my reading and writing were inextricably mixed. I cannot say that a book has ever influenced my life in a broader sense. This is always a tricky question, because "influence" suggests that it made you do something differently, or take a path not previously considered. Certainly there are books that have touched me, books that I thought about for days on end, but not that influenced me in the grand scheme of things, or made me do things differently.  (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)




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