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05 August 2014 @ 08:38 pm
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear  
`The British counterpart to Alexander McCall Smith's' The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency said the pull quote on the front cover of my copy of Maisie Dobbs. This was a little too reminiscent to `Comparable to Tolkien at his best' to fill me with a great deal of confidence.

Maisie Dobbs is the first in what I assume will rapidly become a series of detective novels starring the eponymous Maisie and set in the late 1920s.

The book isn't really a detective novel, as such. It falls into three parts. The middle part gives us Maisie's backstory, a very unlikely Cinderella tale of her rise from below-stairs via tutoring by a friend of the mistress of the house, to a place at Cambridge and, from there, to nursing during the Great War. This is sandwiched between two linked mysteries; a wife who goes out every day and will not tell her husband where she is going, and the death of a disfigured former soldier at retreat for the war wounded. Even in the later stages of the book it's never really a case of who dunnit (which is fairly obvious) more of why, and how, and where will the proof be found. Nor does Maisie do a great deal of detecting beyond, to be honest, being wise and meditating a bit.

I found Maisie rather smug, which isn't necessarily a problem, since fictional detectives all have their flaws, but I wasn't convinced the author saw it that way. I felt there was a bad case of the narrative bending itself around Maisie's perfection as she dispensed wisdom, soothed troubled brows, and impressed the upper and lower classes alike.

That's not to say the book is without merit. I was sufficiently interested in how Maisie's personal story would resolve, that I kept turning the pages. In a lot of ways I feel Jacqueline Winspear is emulating Conan-Doyle. We have the detective story that is interrupted in the middle in order to tell a romance, and a detective whose abilities are unlikely in the extreme. Sadly the mystery wasn't really good enough to carry that aspect, and I think Winspear is considerably fonder of Maisie Dobbs than Conan-Doyle ever was of Holmes which robs the character of the kinds of flaws that make Holmes interesting.

The book passes the time, but I don't think I'll be reading any others in the series.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/122874.html.