Maisie Dobbs is a joy to read, and author Jacqueline Winspear is an expert storyteller. Set in England just following World War I, it’s a captivating historical cozy mystery. However, some people would perhaps take issue with its inclusion on cozy mystery lists because the subject is moderately heavy.
Maisie’s life is a story of right place, right time and the power of connections. Her father sells vegetables, called being a costermonger, to the Compton household in London. When his wife dies and he can no longer offer Maisie the opportunities they planned, he asks the Compton household to take Maisie on as a maid. So she goes into service as the lowliest of the low, rising early to start the great house’s fires.
Lady Rowan Compton takes an interest in Maisie after discovering her in the library reading at 3am. Thus, the downstairs maid has the financial support to make the most of her life. We catch up with Maisie when she’s in her twenties, and is starting her own investigations business. Winspear tells both the back story and current events, moving effortlessly between the two.
In Maisie’s present day, she’s been asked to determine whether a wife is faithful to her husband. In the process. Maisie discovers a secretive and suspicious place caring for veterans. This ties into Maisie’s time as an army nurse, as well as into the Compton family itself. Winspear weaves all the story lines together quite seamlessly, while transporting readers to various times and locales in England and France.
Maisie’s particular method of investigation is rather interesting. She uses her intuition and consciously aims to reach others in a deeper way. It’s a very modern approach, blending Sherlockian deduction with something almost New Age.
Winspear’s writing style is lighter on research and description than some historical fiction. Nevertheless, she evokes the era effectively. This made it possible for me to speed through the first in this series of 13+ books.
Maisie is never whiny or difficult, she’s a tough cookie while still being a woman of her time. The supporting characters are fleshed out just enough to broaden the story and bring depth to the mystery. The pace moves along quickly and Winspear stays decidedly on track, even when the reader isn’t sure how the pieces fit together. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Rita Barrington, who voices each character with distinct creativity.
This is a series I’ll continue as an alternative to the heavier books I choose. I definitely recommend it.