Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs - Psychologist and Investigator, post WWI

"Among of the Mad"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAR 9, 2009)

“I am the man they sent to war, I am the man who went forward at their battle cry. And there are thousands of me, so many hundreds and thousands of me, all of us back here, but never to return home. Home doesn’t even exist for us…"

The intrepid Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator, is walking through London on Christmas Eve, 1931, when a man she believes to be a shell-shocked veteran of World War I suddenly blows himself up, injuring Maisie and several other bystanders.

Maisie herself has served in the Great War as a nurse, and she, too, suffered injuries, both physical and emotional during the war, so she has always been particularly sympathetic to the plight of these unfortunate, mentally ill veterans. Ineligible for the kinds of pensions, benefits, and services that physically injured veterans receive, they are often homeless and too damaged to get and keep a job to support themselves. They have been abandoned: no one even knows the name of the suicide victim.

Another anonymous (and mentally ill) veteran observes the suicide, and shortly afterward issues a threat, telling the authorities that he will "demonstrate [his] power," if the government does not alleviate the suffering of war veterans within forty-eight hours. "If you doubt my sincerity," he says, "ask Maisie Dobbs." Interviewed by Scotland Yard, the Special Branch, and military intelligence, Maisie convinces the authorities that she has had no previous contact with the suicide, and they eventually hire her to help them identify and then find the person who has issued the threat.

As the hours tick down, the brilliant but obviously insane man takes action, quickly demonstrating that he is an expert on gases and proving that he will use them. Old Year's Day, on Dec. 31, is the day he intends to demonstrate his full power on the crowds celebrating in London.

Maisie's investigation takes her into the dark world of insane asylums, those who run them, the treatments they provide, and their chances for success, at the same time that the author also depicts the political and social unrest in the aftermath of the war. The issue of mental illness takes on particularly poignant notes when Doreen Beale, the wife of Billy Beale, Maisie's conscientious assistant, is still so fixated on the death of one of their children, though a year has passed, that she refuses to believe her child has died, and she is unable to care for their two surviving children.

Jacqueline Winspear writes in an exceptionally clear and simple style, and though her theme is complex, she never lets details bog down her fast-paced narrative. Her depiction of the social mores and the political policies of the era between the two world wars give an authenticity to the atmosphere which pervades the novel. As Maisie gradually comes to terms with her own emotional limitations as a result of her war experiences, the novel hints at new directions to come in future novels.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 81 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Among the Mad at publisher's site

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"Messenger of Truth"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple NOV 16, 2006)

"Nick's art was his exorcism, in a way.  He painted the war out of his soul and into the open.  Every time a picture was born of his memory, it was as if something dark was laid to rest.   And if that darkness made one of the higher-ups hot under the collar, it was the icing on the cake to Nick."

Set in post-World War I England, the Maisie Dobbs mysteries keep getting better and better--more fully developed, more complex, and more illustrative of life in that between-wars era.  In this fourth novel, Maisie, now in her late twenties, has served in the nursing corps in France during the war, and she is particularly sensitive to the horrors with which the survivors of this terrible war must still contend, years later.  The love of her own life, Simon Lynch, has been so shell-shocked that he is still hospitalized, semi-comatose, as this novel opens in the winter of 1930-31, and there is little hope that he will get better.  No resources of any kind are offered to any of the young veterans as they try to deal with war's horrors and the economic disasters and unemployment of their civilian lives.

Maisie, now an "inquiry agent," or private detective, has been contacted by wealthy Georgina Bassington-Hope following the death of her brother Nick, a sought-after artist who fell from a scaffolding as he was mounting a show of his paintings about the war.  Georgina, defying her family and the police report, believes he was murdered but has no idea what the motive might be or who might have wanted him dead.

Using straight-forward, workmanlike prose, author Jacqueline Winspear develops the story and a motley cast of characters, offering a broad cross section of society—from the wealthy Bassington-Hopes, who can afford to be frivolous in their arty lives, to the family of Billy Beale, a poor man who supports his large family as Maisie's assistant.  The exotic world of artists, gallery owners, and buyers, comes alive, as does the world of fishermen on the Kentish coast, where Nick Bassington-Hope has his studio.  The reader quickly develops an awareness of the stratification pervading society and each person's concern for his "place" in it.

As Maisie begins her investigation of Nick's death, she concentrates on Nick himself and the art he has created from his war experiences.  The exhibition for which he was preparing at the time of his death was to feature his "masterpiece," thought to be a triptych, a work of art so secret that all Nick would say was that it was in several pieces.  No one has found it since his death, though an American buyer, who has already bought out the show, is willing to pay handsomely for it. 

Winspear juggles several overlapping plot threads simultaneously.  The relationships of Nick Bassington-Hope with his family and friends;  the problems of Billy Beale's family with unemployment, overcrowding, and unhealthy living conditions;  Maisie's new suitor and romance;  the centuries-long history of smuggling on the Kentish coast;  and the search for Nick's missing masterpiece keep the action lively from beginning to end, with plenty of tugs at the heartstrings, as sorrowful events, some associated with the war, unfold. 

Maisie, as proper and chaste as the heroines of novels actually written in the 1930s (by Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers) is imaginative and independent, but she always polite and "lady-like."  Though she is genuinely fond of Billy Beale and his family and is very kind to them, she is also aware that she is Billy's employer, and she maintains a professional distance, not wanting to insult his pride.  The novel feels "cozy," in the sense that it is intimate and family oriented, with care paid to characters' feelings and domestic conflicts.  Though there are moments of excitement, the reader is left, at the end, with as much appreciation for the novel's simple, old-fashioned charm as for its mystery.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 52 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Messenger of Truth at publisher's website

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"Pardonable Lies"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple NOV 16, 2006)

"We lie for truth to prevail and for goodness to return for all of us."

Fans of Maisie Dobbs will delight in this new addition to her series, and those who are new to her have a treat in store.  All the mysteries take place in the aftermath of World War I, this one taking place between September and October, 1930.  Maisie is a survivor, having lied about her age at seventeen and enlisted in the nursing corps, where she served in France in the final, horrific days of the war.  A terrible attack, which killed many of the doctors, nurses, and wounded soldiers she was tending, has left her suffering nightmares more than ten years later.  Now working as a psychologist/investigator in London, Maisie stays busy to avoid dealing with her demons.

Three mysteries unfold simultaneously.  Avril Jarvis, age 13, is arrested for the murder of her "uncle" when she is found with a knife in her hand and blood on her clothes.  Penniless, she has no counsel until Maisie takes a case involving Sir Cecil Lawton, whom she persuades to represent Avril as part of her fee.  Sir Cecil's son Ralph disappeared during the war in France, and his wife, believing Ralph still alive, has exacted a deathbed promise that Sir Cecil will search for him.  In addition, Priscilla Partridge, one of Maisie's dear friends from the Ambulance Corps, now married to a wealthy author in France, has also begged her to try to find where the third of her brothers to die was buried in France.

The horrors of World War I pervade the novel, and when Maisie goes to France, these horrors come alive, not just for the reader but for Maisie as well, and she learns she must "slay her dragons" at last.  Intriguing characters add color to the novel—Maurice Blanche, a doctor who has been with the secret service;  Madeleine Hartnell, a psychic who knows too much about Maisie;  Jeremy Hazleton, a paralyzed member of Parliament who refuses to acknowledge the extent of his friendship with Ralph Lawton;  and Chantal Clement, an elegant Frenchwoman, and her granddaughter Pascale, who live in a decaying castle in Sainte-Marie.

As the mysteries develop, a plethora of key photographs, conveniently kept by numerous characters, connect some of the characters with specific times and places, and romantic elements, such as a secret passageway leading to a musty room, a hidden journal written in code, assumed identities, an important clue buried under a tree, and several attacks on Maisie keep the action moving.  Physical details of clothing, social customs, and landscape give a sense of realism to this romantic mystery with all its coincidences, and there is just enough danger to sustain the tension in this well written and unusual addition to the mystery genre. 

  • Amazon readers rating: from 80 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Pardonable Lies at publisher's website

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)


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About the Author:

Jacqueline WinspearJacqueline Winspear was born and raised in the county of Kent, England. Following higher education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Jacqueline worked in both general and academic publishing, in higher education and in marketing communications in the UK.

She emigrated to the United States in 1990, and while working in business and as a personal / professional coach, Jacqueline embarked upon a life-long dream to be a writer.

Her first novel, Maisie Dobbs was nominated for 7 awards, including the Edgar for Best Novel -– it was only the second time a first novel was nominated in this category. She has won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First novel, the Macavity Award for Best First Novel; and the Alex Award, which is presented annually by the American Library Association in conjunction with the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust.

She currently divides her time between Ojai, California and the San Francisco Bay Area, and is also a regular visitor to the United Kingdom and Europe.

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