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Review: Maisie Dobbs

January 12, 2008

I had no plan of action when I walked into Murder by the Book, just a $25 gift certificate and the vague knowledge that I prefer Dorothy L. Sayers to, say, Janet Evanovich. Thankfully, the store’s shelves are dotted with post-its carrying recommendations from the store’s owners and other customers. Several of the books that came with the highest marks had already been cleaned out—thank you, post-Christmas. I managed to pick up two great books, one of which was Maisie Dobbs .

I’m a sucker for anything set in the years after World War I, so Maisie Dobbs seemed like a good choice. The titular character, Maisie, is a girl-genius ex-Red Cross nurse embarking on a career as a private detective. Shortly after renting her own premises she begins investigating what looks like a fairly routine case of infidelity: the wife of a wealthy industrialist has been leaving home twice a week the minute her husband leaves the house. The enterprising Miss Dobbs follows her to a graveyard, where her quarry visits a grave with only one name on it—Vincent. After befriending the woman, Maisie learns that Vincent was an officer who, disillusioned with the war and the way veterans were treated, renounced his surname and all his fortune to the guardianship of The Retreat—a retirement home run by officers, for officers. Especially those with massive, brutal face injuries.

If The Retreat turned out to be the Camp Singalong of the post-traumatic World War I set, then Maisie Dobbs would probably end on the page when Maisie tells the would-be cuckolded husband that his wife isn’t cheating, and hey, maybe he could treat her nice once in a while. And since The Retreat is capitalized, you know from the start it’s going to be extra ominous.

The rest of Maisie Dobbs is part mystery, part stroll down particularly a bombed-out section of Memory Lane. Maisie must, predictably, come to terms with her own Inner Demons before she can solve this mystery—demons involving a hot doctor and slogs through French mud. I burned through Maisie Dobbs in about a day thanks to my wicked commute and enjoyed it for the most part. Maisie herself hovered just on the edge of Mary Sue-dom—did we really need a description of her early life, how she excelled at everything while being charmingly poor with a colorful, Cockney father and a dutiful desire to do right by her family. All in all, Maisie Dobbs was a charming read. Still not sure if it deserved the glowing accolades written on post-it notes all over Murder by the Book, though.

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