Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs

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Maisie Dobbs Summary

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Maisie Dobbs (2003) is the first book of fourteen in a historical mystery novel series by Jacquline Winspear. Set between 1910 and 1929, the book features quirky female private investigator Maisie Dobbs as she solves crimes in post-World-War-I era England.

Maisie Dobbs is split into two disparate parts – the first part of the novel follows Maisie as a young girl, who at age thirteen loses her mother and has to help her father make ends meet by becoming a maid in the house of the socialite and philanthropist Lady Rowan Compton. This part of the narrative begins in 1910, years before the First World War. The second part of the novel takes place much later, in 1929, after the war is over. Part of the mystery of the book surrounds Maisie’s life, and particularly a romance that she begins with a soldier Captain Lynch, whom she follows into war when she takes a position as a nurse on the English front.

Maisie begins her life as a maid for Lady Rowan, living in her home, Belgravia Mansion. Though her father sent her to make a good living and to contribute to the family, Maisie, however, is suited to more than life as a housemaid. Lady Rowan finds her one night in the library, looking for books to read – reading and learning are some of Maisie’s truest passions. Rather than punishing her, Lady Rowan realizes that Maisie might have more potential than she originally assumed; the girl is teaching herself Latin from books. Lady Rowan sees her potential to be a powerful young woman of the world.

Maisie is assigned a personal tutor, Maurice Blanche, a friend of Lady Rowan’s who works as a private investigator in his own practice. He tutors Maisie on many subjects, but particularly on the subjects of psychology, law, and crime, of which he is most partial. Later, Maisie decides to attend Cambridge University on scholarship, though she knows that she won’t ever be awarded a degree – woman at that period of English history were not given credit for their higher education, even if they attended and completed university. However, during her studies, the war intervenes. Maisie meets a young man Captain Lynch at his coming-out party, only days before he is destined to journey to France to fight in the war. Maisie falls madly in love with Captain Lynch and makes the decision to leave school and become a nurse, something that interests her, in order to follow him into war.

The narrative then flashes forward to 1929. The war is over, and much has changed both in Maisie’s life and in the life and culture of England. Maurice Blanche, Maisie’s personal tutor, has retired from his work as a private investigator, and given over his practice and his reputation to Maisie. She is now working full time as an investigator, which startles many of her clients until they realize the breadth and depth of her knowledge. Maisie receives her first case of the series, a young man who comes to her asking if she can investigate his wife’s affair with another man. However, the case becomes much more complicated when it leads her to a mysterious place called The Retreat, which is meant to be an asylum for veterans of the war. The place, though it appears nice on the outside, is suspicious to Maisie, who sees through its front.

Maisie’s personal life and her ghosts from the war come back to haunt her as she infiltrates the retreat with the help of another veteran, Billy Beale. She soon discovers that her former employer Lady Rowan’s own son has signed away his fortune to The Retreat, and is planning to seek asylum there. Maisie slowly uncovers the true story of The Retreat, facing her own demons in the process.

Maisie Dobbs is the first in a series of fourteen books featuring Maisie as a private investigator on the heels of the First World War. The book is followed by Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, and other titles. Maisie Dobbs was awarded the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, a prize named after Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery, and a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel. In addition to the Maisie Dobbs series, British novelist Jacqueline Winspear has written one other standalone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, published in 2014. Winspear emigrated to the United States in 1990 and has lived in the U.S. ever since. She has said in interviews that much of her writing is based on witnessing her own grandfather’s suffering in the aftermath of the World Wars.