This was my second Maisie Dobbs story and, having enjoyed the first one (‘Maisie Dobbs’), I was looking forward to it, especially as I was aware that Jacqueline has written a long series. So what went wrong for me?
Set in the 1920s, we had the setup classic detective story setup, with Maisie in her own office and her side-kick, Billy Beale, the munificent Lady Rowan in the background and flashbacks to the First World War. The plot was well-constructed: the daughter of a bossy and over-bearing self-made man, Joseph Waite, with a string of grocery stores (I kept thinking of Sainsbury’s), had disappeared and Maisie had to find her. Although it earned its place in the crime section with some proper murders, there were elements of a historical novel, with references to the ‘Order of the White Feather’ movement during the early years of the War. However, although the reader was supposed to be outraged by the activities of this organisation, the introduction of conscription (which followed hard on the heels of the White Feather) would have forced the young men affected by its activities into the trenches anyway. Well done to Jacqueline for being honest enough to point this out, but it did spoil the impact.
Although I’m not an expert on the 1920s and 1930s, Jacqueline’s research seemed thorough and she certainly has a feel for the era. However the historical ambience was occasionally spoilt by her insistence on Maisie wearing trousers – something 1920s women didn’t like doing – and I’m afraid her and Billy’s ‘case maps’ had a Tony Buzan/Mind Genius feel to them. It’s difficult to write about a world which is nearly modern, but where characters didn’t have all the gear we have now. Sometimes the attitudes of Maisie and also some of the other characters were a little twenty-first century politically correct.
What really annoyed me was Maisie herself. She seemed to have developed into a real know it all, guessing links in the plot from the remotest hooks, and with personal and communication skills beyond her thirty years. Without giving too much away, at the end of the story, she tells middle-aged Joseph Waite how to run his life and his family in a way that made me, the reader, squirm.
So, dear Reader, do I recommend this book? No. But am I prepared to give Maisie Dobbs another go? Actually, yes. I’m willing to believe that the Maisie in this book was a blip.