…I really wanted to love you. I’m sorry.
Maisie Dobbs was recommended to me by my sister, my aunt and just about half of Twitter, so of course I had to check it out. As with any series, I went ahead and bought the first two books, Maisie Dobbs (Penguin USA 2003) & Birds of a Feather (Penguin USA 2004) written by Jacqueline Winspear, at my local bookstore and started reading.
Maisie Dobbs is a female detective in London about 15 years after the end of the first World War. Like many young women of that time that lost their beaus to the war, she is unmarried and trying to make it on her own. Along with her faithful sidekick, Billy, they take on cases of missing persons, murders & anything else that falls into their laps. When you’re starting your own detective agency, you can only be so picky about the cases you choose to accept.
In Maisie Dobbs, we get a lot of back story for our title character. We learn how she grew up, her experiences in the war & how she fell into the business of being a private investigator. I really enjoyed this part of the story and was interested in the historical elements of the novel. Unfortunately, this overshadowed the actual mystery, which I came to care about very little. This feeling of apathy on my part seemed to dominate the rest of my reading. Birds of a Feather had even less that sparked my interest which made it much more difficult for me to finish. I made it slowly through, but learned a lot about post war life & spent more time looking up things mentioned in the books that I wished that the author had expanded on (like the Order of the White Feather).
Maisie is clearly someone who has been affected by her experiences and seems detached from the relationships in her life (with her father, mentor,benefactress, etc.). However, this character trait extended to me as a reader as well. It made me feel very little connection with her and the cases she was determined to solve. I just didn’t really care. It didn’t help that Maisie, especially in the second book, started to get very preachy and self righteous. She was too heavy-handed for my taste. I don’t read mystery novels to have them lecture me about war and the human condition… at least not without a bit of a break or comic relief somewhere, which is certainly lacking in these books. All seriousness & not a hint of nonsense. Even Shakespeare knew you had to have some relief from the tragedy (Juliet’s Nurse, I am talking to you!).
I do appreciate that Maisie’s cases are never clear cut. When she catches the “bad guy” you still have sympathy for them. They are human. The crimes are never thoughtless or without emotion. There is always a reason which, at least in the first two books, relates to the mental damage that the war caused. It demonstrates the long term effects of violence, not just on those that went to war, but on those that stayed home. It makes the villains much more complex, even if I figured out the mysteries before Maisie did.
Overall, Winspear is a good writer and I can see why Maisie Dobbs has such a strong following. The story and characters just don’t work for me. If I am going to curl up with a lovely British woman with a penchant for solving mysteries, I’m going to spend my time with Amelia Peabody, who never lets me down and gives me a break from the bleak with a good dose of humor.