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by Jacqueline Winspear
Soho, July 2003
304 pages
ISBN: 1569473307

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Maisie Dobbs sets up an investigative agency in London in 1929. The heroine of this historical detective story is not an aristocratic 1920s Bright Young Thing or even a middle class rebel; she is a working class girl and ex-servant. She has been shaped by a very unusual education and by her experiences as a nurse in First World War France. The choice of the name Maisie Dobbs is very suitable for the period and class.

The agency slowly gets clients - prejudice against a female practitioner is present but she succeeds in discovering the truth in her first case of putative infidelity. Connections between further cases start to occur. We also discover as the tale progresses some of Maisie's background and life story. The problems rised by her clients, the origins of Maisie's own abilities and education and the mysteries within her own life are skillfully combines by the author. Maisie is a likeable character - indeed she must be so since the story is swirling around her.

The biographical development from the child Maisie in 1910, who becomes a maid, to the nurse Maisie in France in 1917 is fascinating to read and forms a sizeable central chunk of the book. There is something of a fairytale element about it, perhaps. The cases in 1929 then coalesce around a home for badly disfigured ex-soldiers. Maisie and the men in the home and outside it need to confront their various demons concerning the war. The final solution to the case intertwines these. To some extent the fate of some characters is left hanging in the air but the main ones have their ends firmly tied with the last sentence of the book anticipating future adventures.

The First World War has inspired many books and its shadow is well evoked here - there a solidity to the experiences of the heroine during the war and the people with whom she is engaged share that firm reality. The various settings - country and town - are well shown and a sense of period is clear.

This s a good first book which will hopefully be followed by more episodes of Maisie's adventures.

Reviewed by Jennifer Palmer, November 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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