Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maisie Dobbs

A neighbor recommended Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs as one of the best books she’s read. The book cover boasts quotes from The New York Times (“Be prepared to be astonished”), NPR (“A quirky literary creation”), and Alexander McCall Smith (“[A] real gift”). Naturally, I had high expectations.

Maisie Dobbs is a detective and self-proclaimed psychologist in post-WWI London, and the novel splits its time between a case and detailing Maisie’s background. Only half the book is a mystery as Maisie investigates “The Retreat” where injured soldiers escape the stares of society.

In the other half, Winspear recounts Maisie’s past. She moves from being a greengrocer’s daughter to an aristocrat’s protégé to a WWI nurse to a private investigator. Maisie Dobbs is almost too good to be true: brilliant and dedicated, moving seamlessly between all ranks in society.

The book is well written, but the split-nature of its format backfires. Maisie is too perfect to be an appealing heroine (although a disturbing scene at the end of the book belies Maisie’s perfection). And Winspear does not fully develop the mystery, so its climax borders on the ridiculous.

Winspear has written several more books in the Maisie Dobbs series. Though I haven’t read them, they are apparently more consistent with the genre and concentrate more on mysteries and less on Maisie’s history. I will have to invest in the second novel before dismissing the series completely.

No comments: