Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in England. She began working on her dream of becoming a writer after emigrating to the United States in 1990. Inspired by her grandfather, who was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, she decided to set her first novel in England during the tumultuous first decades of the twentieth century. Maisie Dobbs, the debut book in a series of fifteen, was published in 2004.
Winspear outlines Maisie’s early years, filling in the details about why she is working as a servant for an aristocrat and how she gets an education. Then, WWI breaks out while she’s in her first year at Cambridge, and Maisie enlists in the overseas nursing service. We learn bits and pieces about her life, about her experience during the war, and about why she goes to work for a distinguished detective after the war ends. Then, in 1929, she sets up her own detective agency.
I loved the historical details, the attention to period manners and nuance, and Maisie’s gift at working out the psychology behind human behavior. There was just enough romance to assure readers that she’s a healthy, normal young woman. Reviewers who complain about Maisie’s openness (to people with disabilities, for example) need to remember that there were attitudes across the spectrum even back then. It was refreshing to see a woman (of any nationality) who is not marinated in the prejudices that were common to that era.
So far, I’ve only read five of the Maisie books. I liked them all despite an occasional need to suspend disbelief (It wasn’t all that easy to fool the SS during WWII, for example). Having gotten through way too many cozy mysteries that lack literary merit, cohesive plot, or interesting characters, I’d spend an afternoon with Maisy Dobbs any day of the week. So what if she has a tendency to be a know-it-all? So what if she’s a little smug on occasion? When it comes to mysteries, I’d much prefer to read about crimes solved by an imperfect but charming female sleuth who knows how to serve tea. Thank you, Ms. Winspear. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.