In case you haven’t met her yet, Maisie Dobbs is an investigator/psychologist, living and working in London in the years after the First World War. Messenger of Truth is the fourth book in the series (see the complete list below), and once again she is asked to look into a murder, this time of an up-and-coming artist, whose fall from a scaffolding – which the police have ruled accidental – has his twin sister suspicious.
There are plenty of mystery series out there in the bookish world. We know that eventually the case will be solved, things put right and what not, so how does one series stand out from another? Quirky characters (Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce is one of my favourites!), a unique setting (Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun series is set in Laos), all that helps.
So what is it about Maisie Dobbs that has readers calling for more? (I’m presuming people are clamouring for more as there are 11 titles in this series already)
I think it may have to do more with the setting and the person that Maisie Dobbs is than the cases she solves.
Maisie is not the easiest person to warm up to. She’s very guarded and a little standoffish. And she doesn’t really have very many people in her life, but those who are in her life mean a lot to her. Born working-class to a costermonger father, she worked as a maid until her employer Lord Julian (or maybe it was his wife Lady Rowan) caught her reading books in his library and sent her to school. She later was a nurse during the war. She may drive a cute little MG but she knows what hard work is. It isn’t an easy life, this being brought out of the poorhouse and into well, what is probably middle-class life. It of course brings to mind Downton Abbey (the sixth and final season is showing now in the UK!) and that contrast between the upstairs and the downstairs. Maisie Dobbs would be like someone from the downstairs going upstairs halfway. If that makes any sense to you!
Another plus point of this series is the detail that goes into Winspear’s London after the war:
“Reaching into the cabinet again, she pulled out a tin of Crosse & Blackwell oxtail soup, which she opened and poured into a saucepan, ready to cook. Admonishing herself for not going to the grocers, she gave thanks for a half loaf of Hovis and wedge of cheddar cheese. And, because it was winter, a half-full bottle of milk set by the back door was not yet sour.”
Then she picks up a book “borrowed from Boots, where she had stopped to browse the lending library earlier”.
It’s these little bits of information that she feeds us that help us feel a part of Maisie’s world, as it struggles to put itself back together after the horrors of World War One.
There is always one thing that bothers me about Maisie’s way of investigating, in which she uses a kind of ‘intuition’ to figure things out. For instance, she sits in the victim’s house and somehow an image of something presents itself to her, something vital that helps in her investigation. It seems a little too convenient at times to have these insights.
But I am rather fond of Maisie and her sidekick Billy. And I’m looking forward to the next instalment of the series.
Books in the Maisie Dobbs series so far:
Maisie Dobbs (2003)
Birds of a Feather (2004)
Pardonable Lies (2005)
Messenger of Truth (2006)
An Incomplete Revenge (2008)
Among the Mad (2009)
The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)
A Lesson in Secrets (2011)
Elegy for Eddie (2012)
Leaving Everything Most Loved (2013)
A Dangerous Place (2015)