Just finished reading the first book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear. Fans of well-written historical fiction and mysteries featuring intelligent women are sure to enjoy following the exploits of M. Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator.
A significant portion of this first book in the series is devoted to Maisie's backstory. After her mother dies, young Maisie is sent to work for the Comptons as an undermaid. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy reading about her life "below the stairs" in this well-to-do household. There's even a loyal butler named Carter who bears a striking resemblance to a certain butler in service to Lord Grantham.
When Maisie is caught reading in library one night, Lady Rowan, the liberal-minded lady of the house, encourages her to continue her education. Enlisting the help of Maurice Blanche, who becomes Maisie's tutor and mentor, Lady Rowan helps Maisie gain admittance to the prestigious Girton College at Cambridge.
Unfortunately, her academic pursuits are cut short by the outbreak of World War I. Maisie does her part by volunteering as a V.A.D. nurse with the Red Cross and is ultimately sent to tend to the wounded on the battlefields of war-torn France. During that time, Maisie experiences love and loss on a deeply personal level, the memories of which she keeps carefully buried.
Years later, Maisie's past catches up to her while working her first case as a private investigator. During the course of a routine investigation, she comes across a curious set of cemetery markers that share a troubling connection - the lack of a surname. The trail leads to a home for battle scarred veterans called The Retreat, but is this respite from the world all it's cracked up to be? Her quest to learn the truth stirs up painful memories from the war. Solving the case will mean confronting her own demons, but is she brave enough to face the truth after all these years?
More than just another cozy mystery series, Maisie Dobbs explores issues of class, gender, love and loss following the wake of World War I.
Maisie Dobbs Series:
1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
5. An Incomplete Revenge
6. Among the Mad
7. The Mapping of Love and Death
8. A Lesson in Secrets
9. Elegy for Eddie
10. Leaving Everything Most Loved
If you enjoyed the Maisie Dobbs series, here are some other titles that may interest you:
Jade del Cameron Mystery Series by Suzanne Arruda
Like Maisie, Jade del Cameron, heroine of this outstanding historical mystery series, sees the horrors of war first hand as an ambulance driver in the Great War. Her promise to a dying soldier leads her to colonial Africa, where she quickly becomes entangled in a murder investigation where supernatural forces appear to be at work. Mark of the Lion is the first title in a series of six books to date.
Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries (featuring Harriet Vane) by Dorothy Sayers
Fans of Maisie Dobbs, the bluestalking, will fall in love with Harriet Vane. Harriet is a well-educated and highly intelligent mystery writer who finds herself on trial when her former lover is murdered by the very method she is researching for her next book. Lord Peter Wimsey is the debonair "gentleman detective" intent on proving her innocence. Strong Poison is the fifth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, and the first one in which we are introduced to Harriet Vane. Other books in the series featuring Harriet include Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
If you were drawn to Maisie Dobbs by the historical backdrop of the Great War, you may also relish the historical detail of this multi-layered novel about a British officer's love affair with a French woman during World War II. Faulks writes in heartbreaking prose about the horrors of war and the toll it takes on the body and soul.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Another wonderful and well-written historical novel set in wartime England is Ian McEwan's Atonement. While this novel is set years later, during World War II, readers will recognize similarities between Maisie and Robbie Turner. Both walk a fine line between the social classes. Robbie, whose mother is a housekeeper for the Tallis family, grows up as "almost" one of the family. His Cambridge education is even financed by the family. Yet he is never truly one of them. Readers drawn to Maisie's background as a VAD nurse, will also follow Briony Tallis' career as a war-time nurse with interest. Richly detailed and beautifully written, this is one of my favorite novels. Be prepared, though, for your heart to break. There's nothing "cozy" about this book.