I set myself a challenge to re-read all fifteen Maisie Dobbs books this month. I’m going to review them in 3s or 4s, because otherwise you’ll be inundated with reviews for this series! Unless you’re a big fan, that’ll probably get a bit tiresome…
Author: Jacqueline Winspear | Publisher: John Murray
The first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, is remarkable. It’s a very different kind of detective story, effortlessly blending history, mysticism, philosophy, and crime.
The detail is what always gets me about this series. The detail put into the characters, the setting, the history… It’s a total immersion into the world in the aftermath of WWI. I think, if you don’t appreciate a lot of descriptive language and scene setting, you prefer a bit your books to be action-driven, honestly, you might find this book a bit dull. Luckily, I very much enjoy those things in my reads! The richness of the scenery, the dimensionality of the characters and contextualisation… I find it absolutely fascinating.
Unlike most of the other books in the series, right in the middle of the solving of the crime, Maisie Dobbs takes a leap back into the past to give a history of the protagonist (who is, unsurprisingly, called Maisie Dobbs). And it shouldn’t work, it really shouldn’t. Chopping and changing chronology just once, not the whole way through the book; and right in the middle of solving the crime… And for several chapters… It really shouldn’t work! It goes against every rule we’re taught as writers and every common-sense structuring of a mystery novel. And yet, somehow, it connects the reader to the characters far more viscerally, gives an even stronger sense of place. As far as I can recollect, it’s the only time the author uses this technique (although there are some flashbacks and reminiscences in the other books) – which is, I think, for the best. Trying to pull that off once is surely tricky enough…
The mystery itself is quite straightforward, and the psychological approach to solving it is reminiscent of Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, but it feels fresh. It has enough twists and turns to keep you going. Interesting, it’s also not a murder… It’s unusual to find a mystery book which doesn’t focus on a murder, but on some other crime, I think.
All in all, I adore this book just as much every time I read it. It really is wonderful, and it sets you up nicely for the next in the series.
5 out of 5 Archimedes
Birds of a Feather revolves around some of the more unpalatable aspects of behaviour during the War – and doesn’t shy away from the consequences. It’s quite gritty, in many ways. Unlike the first book, it’s also a murder mystery.
It has less dipping backwards and forwards, is faster paced, but continues to be a detailed and immersive experience.
I also liked how some of the characters are quite… unlikeable. I found that interesting and challenging as a reader.
The other thing which always gets me about this series, and really starts to come into play more in the second book, is the underpinning of philosophy. These books are surprisingly wise! You almost want to get out a pen and start taking notes!
5 out of 5 Archimedes
The third book in the series, Pardonable Lies, is another “not a murder” mystery. It has the same beautiful style of writing and level of descriptive immersion. I love the way real-life history is blended into fiction; when done well, it’s one of my favourite genres.
I also like the character development, and the way it’s so closely intertwined with the mystery, in this series. You really start to see that in this book, and more so around the supporting cast – which I find interesting. The secondary characters are just as important in this series, as they should be, just as multi-dimensional as the protagonist. I liked the way the relationship between the characters developed.
Pardonable Lies sees Maisie take a trip back into her past. It’s as much about her, and her development as a character, as it is the mystery. It was interesting to see another side to the worldbuilding, outside of Britain. If you like history, I think you’d probably find this quite interesting as well.
By this point, I’m thorough attached to the characters and really want to know what happens next!
5 out of 5 Archimedes