Meet Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator
Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, kept me busy for most of the early winter, as I read one volume after another of this mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear. I’m now reading the last few and will be sorry when I’m done.
As with all good series, from the first novel we see the development of Maisie’s business and her personal life, as she matures in age and experience.
The 4th in the series, Messenger of Truth, has Maisie taking on an investigation into the death of an artist at a London gallery. Nicholas Bassington-Hope is one of a group of young artists who have returned from the First World War with a desire to make their mark. It is Christmas time 1930. When Nicolas is found dead the police consider his death an accident by the police but his sister refuses to believe this and calls in Maisie Dobbs to discover the truth.
Closer to home the family of Billy Beale (Maisie’s assistant) has become infected with diphtheria, in an epidemic that is sweeping through London’s poor neighbourhoods.
An Incomplete Revenge follows with a case that seems to be a simple investigation into a property for sale, but becomes far more. It is harvest time, the fall of 1931. Billy Beale, and his family are picking hops in the countryside, something their family has done for generations. It is a time of hard work, but also lovely long days of fresh air and good fellowship. Maisie finds herself involved with a gypsy community, also there for the hop picking. The culture of the Roma – gypsy – people and their interconnectedness with British society is fascinating. There is always something more about the First World War, and in this novel we learn about the many boys who were released from reformatories to become soldiers – often being sent to their death.
The 6th in the series, Among the Mad, begins on Christmas Eve 1931, with the death of a seemingly unknown homeless man. We are drawn into the world of the suffering soldiers who returned to England after the First World War finding themselves forgotten and without care for their emotional wounds. In all of these novels the past, most especially World War I, haunts the present. In this one we learn about the horrible effects of poisonous gases used during the First World War – the cause death for many, and life long suffering for others. Meanwhile there is political unrest in Great Britain with some of those who are disenfranchised turn to violence.
The Mapping of Love, finds us in the spring 1932, and with spring comes love for Maisie. This novel brings many changes in Maisie’s life though she is working on a difficult case involving a death dating back to 1916. Michael Clifton was a young American cartographer who enlisted in the British army in the fall of 1914 – listed as missing in 1916 though his body is only discovered many years later.
Maisie Dobbs is hired by the family to search for a woman who may have been his lover – and for any other information about his death, and the whereabouts of documents relating to a property he purchased in California. We learn about the desperate need for accurate map-making in France during the First World War and the dangerous work this involved. Of course, as always, there is far more involved in this investigation than it first seems.
Maisie is settling into her life, as the “woman of independent means” that she worked so hard to achieve – but she knows she wants more in her life. Her friend, Priscilla, draws her out, introducing potential suitors.
As always Dr. Maurice Blanche, Maisie’s mentor, is in the background, consulted by Maisie at essential points in the investigation. With each case he pushes her to take charge herself – to trust her understanding and instinct as she becomes more and more capable of making the correct analysis of the information she has gathered, and coming to the right conclusion.
All of these novels, set in the early 1930s, portray society in Great Britain as recession deepens and concern increases at the rise of extreme political parties. Times are changing. We, of course, know that the Second World War will begin in less than a decade.
In case you want to read them all -
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
11 A Dangerous Place