Books: Maisie Dobbs

>> Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Skulking about in the mystery shelves of That Bookstore in Blytheville during a recent road trip, I discovered a book that, from the words "National Bestseller" on the cover, a fair amount of other people have already discovered. The book is Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, and though it's nominally a mystery, it's an odd creature that proves rather difficult to classify.

There is a mystery here, though it's solved in the first and last quarter of the book. The larger interior focuses on Maisie Dobbs herself. Maisie is a young woman of exceptional ability and understanding, trained to be a detective by an enigmatic cross between Sherlock Holmes and the Dalai Lama. Through a series of vignettes, we see Maisie go from poor servant to student to World War I battlefield nurse, explaining how she got to her place and position in society.

Maisie's training encourages a holistic approach to detection--and to life. In my favorite scene, Maisie elicits a confidential memory over a pleasant cup of tea at a restaurant. Then, in keeping with her humanistic approach, she takes the woman shopping for fabric--a particular love of this person--to help fill the hole she has just created in this woman's soul. Similarly, no mystery can be solved by Maisie without it taking some personal toll on her as well. This particular case opens up a giant hole in Maisie, brought on by the events we see in the middle of the book, and thus it becomes not so much important that the mystery be solved, but that all the emotional pieces are all put back into place at the end.

Maisie Dobbs proved a slow, immersive read, but a worthwhile one.


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