A Maisie Dobbs Novel, #12
If you are not familiar with Jacqueline Winspear’s wonderful series of mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs novels, you really ought to consider reading all twelve of the books in order. They represent a truly unique take on the British detective story: historically rich in fact and detail, narrated by a modern and refreshing heroine.
The first of the novels begins at the start of the twentieth century where we meet Maisie Dobbs, a servant in a manner house in London who — when caught sneaking into the house library to read at night — is not fired but rather taken under the wing of a wise mentor, the forensic scientist and investigator Maurice Branche. In the first book we see the bright, dedicated, young Maisie rise up from being in service to heading off to college. However, World War I sweeps across Europe and soon Maisie abandons her studies to serve as nurse on the front lines. There she gains an education that she could never have prepared herself for and becomes a young nurse with intimate knowledge of death, injury, and mental anguish.
After the war Maisie returns to England to continue her very, very unique education. By the start of the second novel, we meet the fully educated Maisie who has just started her private investigation agency. However, Maisie is not your run-of-the-mill investigator. Not only are her clients surprised that M. Dobbs is a woman, a self-employed one at that, but that her background includes forensics, psychology, nursing (with special training focusing on the mental injuries of war), as well as private investigative techniques. What makes her even more shockingly modern are both her embrace of eastern techniques, such as meditation, and her use of her psychic abilities to help her solve cases.
Maisie Dobbs believes very strongly that her clients have stories to tell her — stories that are both truth and lies — but also that that the missing and the dead have their own stories to tell as well. As the books progress, readers have become familiar with Maisie Dobbs as a very accomplished investigator who brings her unique style to closing cases in ways that heal the psychological wounds of her clients, as well as solving their more immediate dilemmas.
Maisie Dobbs, as we meet her at the start of book 12, A Dangerous Place, has suffered through a series of personal traumas that have caused her to shutter her practice for the past three years. She has spent those years alone, traveling the globe, trying to make peace with her psychological wounds. Accidentally ending up in Gibraltar, readers find Maisie bruised and vulnerable, a shadow of the vibrant woman she was at the end of book 11. Maisie soon discovers the body of a local man and she is drawn into the investigation of his murder. Although she wishes she could continue to ignore work in order to focus on her internal struggles, she finds that the dead man is calling out to her for help.
Using her now trademark style of interviews, evidence collecting, and psychic talents she begins to work to help the dead and the living they have left behind. Without any allies or resources in the foreign land and with no official client who has authorized her to investigate, Maisie becomes involved in a plot that involves more than one murder, war time secrets, and many shady characters. She shoulders on, certain that she can tie all of the strands of evidence together to solve the murder and give the victim’s family peace.
These books are a joy to read, well-written and engaging while providing a wonderful historical look at England from the turn of the twentieth century until the brink of World War II, painting a vivid portrait of women’s lives during those decades. Winspear also treats us to an amazing main character, one who is years ahead of her peers in her independence and her east-meets-west wisdom.
NOTE: Rather than re-reading A Dangerous Place, I listened to this book as e-audiobook that was narrated by the delightful Orlagh Cassidy. Her reading was perfectly paced and she voiced Maisie perfectly: proper, insightful, kind and fiercely independent. A wonderful option for commuting or long walks.