Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

March 23, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • There is definitely some potential with the Maisie character. While many things about her are simply unbelievable, I can see the author refining Maisie as the years go on and honing her into a worthwhile protagonist.
  • The events of this book largely take place in 1929. This seems like an interesting time period to place Maisie in, and should give rise to lots of conflict in future installments in the series. I’m sure there will be descriptions of hardship, such as wearing used coffee bags for shoes or whatever, which could lend some color to the action.

Disliked:

  • While it was certainly necessary to get Maisie’s backstory, I hated that it came smack-dab in the middle of the book and went on and on for at least a hundred pages. Either tell the story chronologically or spread the flashbacks around in manageable chunks. As it was, this felt like two distinct stories crammed into one volume.
  • Wait, so Maisie managed to stop Billy’s impending execution by…singing??? That’s all she could think of to do — and it worked?! You’ve gotta be kidding me. That had to be one of the most ridiculous resolutions I’ve ever read in a mystery.
  • Speaking of ridiculous, we’re supposed to believe that Maisie was reading and understanding Kant and other giants of philosophy with NO guidance or teaching whatsoever? Yes, she had Maurice to train her, but that came later. That’s not to say I automatically think all housemaids or costermongers’ daughters are imbeciles, but come on.
  • The “love story” between Maisie and Simon was trite and predictable. I could have done without it.
  • Why were so many people willing to bend over backwards to help Maisie? That seemed a bit unusual for someone in her station in life (as a working-class woman in the 1920’s). Lady Rowan’s initial determination to help educate Maisie is understandable because Lady Rowan was looking for a cause. But after that, no one ever said no to her or stood in her way. Hard to believe.

Rating:

I love mystery series, and had high hopes for Maisie Dobbs since I know there are nine novels featuring this character. Publishers wouldn’t go that far for a bad series, would they? But I was seriously disappointed in how choppy, unbelievable, and boring this first installment was. I give this one just 2 stars out of 5. Nevertheless, I am willing to try at least one or two more Maisie Dobbs books because I understand that sometimes series get off to a slow start. Let’s hope that’s the case here.

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