Jacqueline Winspear: Maisie Dobbs (2003) The First Maisie Dobbs Mystery

I’m not sure who mentioned Maisie Dobbs first. Either Danielle on A Work in Progress or Kailana on The Written World. Whoever it was I’m glad she did as Maisie is an amazing heroine. I really like her and the way she goes about her job. The period details are captured in a very descriptive way, reading often felt like watching a movie.

The story begins in London, 1929. Maisie Dobbs has opened her first office. She is a private investigator and psychologist who has been trained by a master of the art, Maurice Blanche, a friend of Lady Rowan, on whose estate Maisie used to be a maid.

Her first investigation leads her to follow the wife of Christopher Davenham. He suspects her to have a lover. What Maisie finds out is quite different from what Davenham and the reader think and will lead Maisie to investigate a crime and confront her with her own past.

The second part of the novel rewinds to 1910-1917. In 1910 Maisie is just a girl who lives alone with her father after her mother has died. She is unusually intelligent and her parents wanted to send her to college later but the mother’s illness has swallowed up all of their money and Maisie is sent to Lady Rowan as a maid. They soon find out about Maisie’s fondness for reading and learning and give her a private tutor, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a special fellow with an eye for people and an unusual capability of seeing behind the masks.

Maisie finally goes to university and is about to embark on a splendid academic career when WWI breaks out. Like so many other young women she volunteers as a nurse and is sent to France where the man she has recently fallen in love with is serving as a doctor.

Maisie’s life story, the crime and its solution are all rooted in WWI. While I didn’t think the crime was gripping I thought the way the book revealed what happened to Maisie during the war was suspenseful. I truly admired the way it managed to convey an idea of WWI. Maisie and many other characters still suffer from various ailments or traumas. This, for example, is Maisie at the beginning of the novel.

Lucky, thought Maisie. Except for the war, I’ve had a lucky life so far. She sat down on the dubious oak chair, slipped off her shoes and rubbed her feet. Feet that still felt the cold and wet and filth and blood of France. Feet that hadn’t felt warm in twelve years, since 1917.

Facial wounds play and important role. The wounds and how society and the wounded handle them. But the horror of the trenches, the constant rain, mud and cold are rendered as well.

It’s certainly a novel that appeals to many people. To those who like cozy mysteries, to those who are interested in WWI. Fans of the upstairs-downstairs theme will love the middle section. Maisie Dobbs is a likable and clever character and to get to know the way how she reads people is fascinating. Her way of working is a mix of psychological analysis and psychic abilities that I enjoyed a great deal.

There are by now 9 books in the series and the fans and followers are numerous.

Because of its lovely design and a lot of information it is worth to visit Jacqueline Winspear’s Website.

If you are interested, March is Maisie Month on Facebook.

Maisie Dobbs is my third contribution to Anna and Serena’s War Through the Generations challenge.

M.C. Beaton: A Highland Christmas (1999) A Hamish Macbeth Mystery

I like all sorts of crime and thrillers and while I mostly prefer more character driven psychological novels, I have a weakness for cozy and paranormal crime. Two years ago I discovered M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series and fell in love with its charm. Set in the fictitious Scottish Highland village of Lochdubh it has everything we want from cozy crime. Great atmosphere, a very likable inspector, some excentric characters and crime that is far from gruesome. In the case of A Highland Christmas the crime doesn’t even involve a murder.

If you have never read any Hamish Macbeth, this may not be the place to start. It’s one of the more recent ones of a series in which there are already at least 30 books. Part of the charm is the character Hamish Macbeth (there is also a TV series starring Robert Carlyle). He is a very kind, good-looking loner whose love life is far from successful. In the earlier books his main companions are a dog and a wild cat. They are not mentioned here which was a bit of a disappointment but logical as they can hardly live forever. What I like about Hamish is the fact that he treats everyone equally nice, the old and the young, the men and the women and the animals as well.

Lochdubh is described in a way that makes you want to stay there for a while when your own personal life is getting too stressful. Life in the village of Lochdubh, which is surrounded by the picturesque scenery of the Scottish Highlands, is slow, people form a tight-knit community, they are chatty and friendly. Sorrows can be easily forgotten over a cup of tea and a wee dram.

It is winter in Lochdubh and Christmas isn’t far, only in this community of fervent Calvinists, there is no such thing as Christmas and Christmas decorations are unheard of. They are, as some would say, devilish. When this year, for the first time, someone sets up a Christmas tree and Christmas lights, nobody is surprised when they are stolen. Hamish isn’t thrilled that, instead of being somewhere on vacation, he has to chase a petty thief and on top of that find out who stole Mrs Gallagher’s cat.

Mrs Gallagher is a foreigner who has been living in Lochdubh for a while. She is generally hated but when Hamish pays her a visit and sees that she bolts her door, he is a bit surprised. It seems the woman is more frightened than truly unfriendly.

If you want to find out who stole the Christmas tree and if the cat is found, you have to read the book for yourself.

It’s a charming book, set in a charming world and for those who like M.C. Beaton it’s certainly a nice addition to the other books. In any case it’s a nice Christmas themed book with a picture-book Christmas ending, involving snow and good-natured festivities. The book is not too sugary but charmingly old-fashioned, despite the overall positive tone and the depiction of a better world, it still touches on themes like old-age and loneliness.

M.C. Beaton is also the author of the equally well-liked Agatha Raisin series which I haven’t read. Does anyone know  it?