Penguin, 2003, 309 pages
The debut of one of literature's favorite sleuths! 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. After the War I and her service as a nurse, Maisie hangs out her shingle back at home: M. DOBBS, TRADE AND PERSONAL INVESTIGATIONS.
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.
I like mysteries but tend to be bored by "cozies." I do like English war stories, though, so I figured I'd give this a try.
Maisie Dobbs is the almost generic-by-now "strong female character" with an extra dose of British stiff upper lip. She was a nurse in World War I, and then hung out a shingle after the war to become a private investigator. So as a woman making her way in a very sexist 1920s England, she's seen the horrors of war, had an unconventional education (including going to Cambridge), etc. etc.
Maisie is likeable if a bit too unflappable, though we do see her softer side in the flashbacks to her wartime romance. But this was one of the reason I found the book a bit of a slog — it's the first book in the series and the author wants to thoroughly introduce the character, so after an initial investigation (a man thinks his wife is cheating on him, it turns out to be something different, which leads Maisie to the real mystery, of a sinister resort that treats wounded veterans) about half the book is going back and telling us Maisie's life story.
I would prefer these details be introduced organically as part of the current plot, but the author decided we'd be interested in knowing all about Maisie's childhood and background and education, finally bringing us to the present day.
The ending was heavily foreshadowed, but still touching. I liked Maisie but this is still very much a light read, and probably not a series that is dramatic enough to interest me.
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