@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series is always a refreshing change from the blood and guts that are common fare in most other detective fiction. Maisie, who bills herself as a “Psychologist and Investigator,” is unlike any other protagonist in crime fiction. There’s nothing the least bit hard-boiled about her. Operating in London and points south, Maisie works under the ever-present pall of World War I. Though it’s now the 1930s, Maisie’s service as a nurse at a casualty clearing station near the front line in France was the dominant experience in her otherwise very eventful life. Her fiance, Captain Simon Lynch, lies in a vegetative state in a convalescent home. They had worked together in France and were wounded by the same German artillery shell.
Maisie Dobbs and the legacy of war
In An Incomplete Revenge, the fifth book in the series, Maisie is forced to face the lasting pain of her earlier years: the backstory of her family’s life, the class resentment she continues to bear as a child of poverty, the tension between her and her brilliant mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, and her lover’s worsening condition. In the face of all this stress, Maisie takes on what proves to be a challenging case on behalf of her dear friend, James Compton, the son of the aristocratic couple that sponsored her education.
A village where strange things happen
The action centers on the village of Heronsdene in Southeast England. The village lies not far from the estate where she once served as a maid and her father still lives, tending the horses. It’s hop-picking season. The fields are crowded with Londoners, a small tribe of Gypsies, and villagers, all seeking to supplement their meager income. It’s 1931, and the Depression is well underway. All the land nearby, and the brickworks located on it, are the property of a single owner, who is universally despised in the area. Alfred Sandermere is a bully, a drunkard, and a wastrel.
Maisie has come to Heronsdene because James wants her to look into the strange circumstances there, as he is interested in buying the estate. These circumstances include a series of suspicious fires, a rash of thefts at the Sandermere mansion and elsewhere, and the villagers’ mysterious refusal to talk about the Zeppelin attack that killed the local baker and his family in 1916. With mystery piled on mystery, this is a case tailor-made for Maisie Dobbs.
Naturally, Maisie triumphs in the end, having disentangled the threads of this complicated story and given her friend the green light to proceed with the purchase. But the fun, after all, is in the telling.
My review of Maisie Dobbs, the first novel in the series, is at A female detective like no other. The second, Birds of a Feather, is here: The cost of war hangs over the action like a shroud, and the third, Pardonable Lives, is here: Maisie Dobbs: living the legacy of World War I. I reviewed #4, Messenger of Truth, at Class resentment in Depression-era England. You might also be interested in my list of 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.