Wednesday 26 August 2020

Maisie Dobbs #15 An American Agent | Jacqueline Winspear #CosyCrime

Maisie and I go way back.
We've weathered the good times and the bad, and we've survived the time we nearly went our separate ways. But we've made it to book 15 and I now suspect I'm in it for the long haul. Below is our journey.
  • Maisie Dobbs #1
    • Back in the day when I wrote very brief book responses, this is what I had to say about the very first Maisie: 
    • Light and easy, but with enough going on to keep it a cut above the rest. Set after WW1 in London, Winspear is obviously concerned about the way war affects people long after the fighting is over. Her characters are all shell-shocked in one way or another and the fall-out continues to impact years later.
      Maisie is a detective who uses the new ideas of psychology & intuition to help solve crimes. The first book gives lots of fascinating WW1 back story.
  • Maisie Dobbs #2 Birds of a Feather
    • I love the Maisie stories. They quickly became my cosy, comfort read but I didn't always feel the need to write about them. Book 2 showed us Maisie getting stuck into her new role as a private investigation, utilising her skills of intuition and psychology.
  • Maisie Dobbs #3 Pardonable Lies
    • By book 3, I considered Maisie to be a friend.
    • Pardonable Lies sees Maisie return to France to help solve 2 cases of missing presumed dead soldiers. The case becomes dangerous as she uinknowingly gets too close to matters that the secret service would rather nobody knows about.

      In some ways the mystery is the cover story in all the Maisie Dobbs books. They're simply a way of getting to know Maisie, her world and her times much better.
  • Maisie Dobbs #4 Messenger of Truth
    • A story about murder in the art world of London 1931 that brings up some dark WWI memories for Maisie. The gradual reveal about Maisie's past life is what draws me into these stories each and every time. She's a character I want to get to know.
  • Maisie Dobbs #5 An Incomplete Revenge
    • A trip to rural Kent to solve a set of mysterious crimes, once again brings ups WWI secrets, for Maisie and her clients.
  • Maisie Dobbs #6 Among the Mad
  • Many of her adventures centre around the after effects of WW1 on returning soldiers and nurses. This story is no different as it mixes personal issues with political issues.

    The government has received threats against public safety from a wounded soldier bent on being heard. This leads Maisie and her colleagues on a search through the various factions forming in England expressing discontent with the establishment.

    There is nothing difficult or alarming in this story. A vague melancholy hangs over most of the Maisie books despite Maisie's charms and abilities.

    For me this makes the perfect winter read.
  • Maisie Dobbs #7 The Mapping of Love and Death
    • This was another story that takes us all back to stuff that happened in WWI, when the remains of a soldier are discovered and his family are convinced that his death was not a usual war death.
  • Maisie Dobbs #8 A Lesson in Secrets
  • Maisie's strong, no nonsense approach to life was the perfect antidote for winter blues.

    My only concern for this book was that even with the change of career, a move to Cambridge & the flush of new romance, Maisie, herself somehow felt a little stale.

    For the first time, I felt the intrusion of Winspear in these books. I could almost see the author stalking the pages trying to work out what direction she would like take Maisie next. She's aware something needs to change, but she wasn't quite ready to tackle it in this book. It felt like she was the laying the groundwork for what comes least I hope that's what she was doing!

    Because as much as I love Maisie, I want to see he grow and mature and move onto new things if that's what she needs to do. I'd hate to see her stagnate.
  • Maisie Dobbs #9 Elegy for Eddie
  • Maisie Dobbs is smart, thoughtful & reserved. She's a flawed character with a tragic past. She's strong, determined and above all, honest. Integrity, honour and justice are traits that she tries to live by and work with. Which can be challenging when you're a private investigator asked to check into the suspicious death of a childhood chum.

    Each of Maisie's cases reveals a little more about her past and how this impacts on the way she manages her life and relationships now.

    Maisie's war time experiences have had a huge impact on her. Her psychological training not only coming in handy to solve the crime, but to give her insight into her own actions and behaviours.

    Part of the pleasure is the setting - between wars London. This book is full of visits to Covent Garden in all its working class grittiness. Tea shops, costermongers, stables, factories, fog and the River Thames all feature regularly. Winspear helps to bring it to life though thanks to the memories and stories told to her by her father.
  • Maisie Dobbs #10 Leaving Everything Most Loved
  • It is now 1933 and Winspear deftly weaves a modern day issue into her historical fiction. Scotland Yard requires Maisie's help to solve the problem of two murdered Indian women. The impact of racism, colonialism and the class system (in both England and India) all come under scrutiny via Winspear's more familiar themes of belonging, self-reflection and the lingering after effects of trauma and prejudice.

    Maisie spends a lot of time analysing her own thoughts and behaviours as well as employing this skill to help her solve each case. Up until the past couple of books, Maisie was making progress. Her use of psychology, intuition and meditation was interesting.

    However, I do feel that Winspear has now got bogged down with the romance between Maisie and James Compton. We all want Maisie to be happy in love, but at the same time, getting married and settling down with a family wont work for future story lines. Curiously part of the success of these stories is Maisie's continuing misery. What will happen to the series if Maisie finally finds happiness?

    How can Winspear solve this dilemma?
  • Maisie Dobbs #11 A Dangerous Place
  • Suddenly it is 1937 and Maisie is in Gibraltar.

    Four years have gone by and she is still being referred to as Miss Dobbs.

    A quick flashback via some letters and newspaper articles fill us in on the continuing misery of Maisie. I confess I nearly cried.

    Unlike many of Maisie's loyal followers, though, I wasn't disappointed by this great leap forward.

    Winspear had to do something dramatic to change the direction of the series. Maisie had reached an emotional stalemate at the end of the previous book. Whatever came next had to propel the series onto a new level or wrap things up for good.

    I never bought the whole James and Maisie romance - it felt too convenient. And I was still holding a torch for Detective Richard Statton who rode off into the sunset with his young son and the end of book 8.

    Bringing us closer to WWII politicking and the double-dealing of spies, was a smart move by Winspear. It may have been a bit clunky in execution, but it's what the series needed.

    A Dangerous Place refers to the Spanish Civil War and the fate of refugees. I like how Winspear is gently drawing a line between historical events and current world affairs.

    Obviously a new war will give Maisie plenty of opportunity to reflect on and confront her experiences as a WWI nurse. However, her ongoing angst is getting a little tired (although more than understandable), so I do hope that Winspear allows Maisie some psychological and emotional peace soon.
  • Maisie Dobbs #12 Journey to Munich
  • During my recent blogging malaise, Maisie Dobbs kept me sane and calm. She is familiar, comfortable and cosy. Although some of the crimes are getting a little nasty now that Hitler is involved, Winspear still avoids gory details and gruesome forensic descriptions, for which I am eternally grateful!

    Journey to Munich sees Maisie being recruited by the secret service to do some spying in 1938 Germany. You do have to suspend a little belief whilst reading these later books in the Maisie Dobbs series, but the goodwill engendered in the earlier books has been enough to keep me going. I've never been a spy myself, so I'm happy to accept that Maisie's approach to undercover work could, well, work (despite the doubts of other reviewers on Goodreads).

    To be honest, I don't care that much. I don't read the Maisie Dobbs books for an accurate how-to on spying or detective work. I read them for the relationships, the personal journey of Maisie herself and for the feel-good effect they have on me.

    I also read them for the historical fiction element. The books are set between the two world wars in England - a period of time that has fascinated me forever.

    With Maisie's trip to 1938 Munich and her brush with Hitler's henchmen, Winspear is preparing the way for a change in direction. I'm feeling a growing sense of trepidation for Maisie's best friend, Priscilla and her family of boys. Boys who will be coming of age as WWII starts.
  • Maisie Dobbs #13 In This Grave Hour
  • As the title suggests, WWII has just been declared. And as with any long running series, some books are better than others. In the early stages of this one, I thought we had one of the lesser Maisie's on our hands. It felt a little clunky, like it was trying too hard to find the Maisie magic of old. But as we went along, the pace picked up and Winspear found her groove. The regular, much-loved cast of characters add the heart and soul to this story and they all got a chance to shine in this story, especially Maisie's dad, who I just adore.

    The crime centred around the revenge-styled murders of Belgium refugees from WWI, but the emotional heart of the story involved the children evacuated from London during the early days of the wars announcement. Maisie also got to revisit an old flame in the guise of Richard Stratton, recalled to London to help with the war effort.

    After feeling so fearful for Priscilla's young adults sons in the previous book, In This Grave Hour brings the sense of tension back a few notches. This reflected the anti-climax that occurred in England after the initial announcement when nothing actually happened, leading the early stages of WWII to be called the phoney war or the bore war.
    Her happy mix of empathy and rational thought is a combination that I find endearing and admirable. Spending time with such kind hearted, well-meaning people will always feel like a good thing to do.
  • Maisie Dobbs #14 To Die But Once
  • Definitely one of the better Maisie's - after waiting around for the war to start, the boys are now seeing some action and we're all extremely concerned and worried for Billy's young men and Pricillia's family of boys.

    A far bit of the action occurs around the Dunkirk retreat with the death of a young painter working for the government, painting airfields as the raison d'être for Maisie being in the area.

    Easy to read, like spending time with an old friend.
  • Maisie Dobbs #15 An American Agent
Now that WWII is in full swing, the Maisie stories have returned to form. An interesting mystery/crime for Maisie to sink her teeth into and oodles of relationship drama with her family and friends and their young men now fighting in this new war. 

Maisie and her friend, Priscilla have resumed their WWI nursing duties, this time driving ambulances around London to assist with the after effects of the Blitz. Maisie is in the process of adopting an orphaned refugee girl from Book 13 and Priscilla is trying to help her eldest son come to terms with being an amputee. And a romantic interest from Book 11 returns to tempt Maisie to think about something other than war and crime and adoption paperwork.

It's nice to see Maisie less absorbed by her own angst these days. She has grown and matured and has finally moved away from the ghosts of WWI. She still bears the scars, but is now strengthened by her previous experiences, not traumatised.

 A real P.I could no doubt drive a bus through the flaws in Maisie's criminal reasoning, but her empathy and personal commitment to each case is what makes these cosy crime stories, so cosy and so comforting for this particular reader.

A quick, easy read that is perfect for a cold winter's day.

Book 11 of 20 Books of Summer Winter


  1. I think I read up to about book 6 and then dropped off, mainly because I stopped reading for a while. There's quite a few series that this is true for too!

    1. She's very easy company Marg. I often read fairly intense books or ones that require lots of concentration, so I love having a couple of series like this to fall into when I need a change of pace. She's like a fluffy blanket and a warm cup of tea wrapped up in one :-)

  2. I have not read this series. It sounds like one I would enjoy. Thanks for the synopsis!!

    1. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy them :-)

  3. Nice post and you have all the book covers too! I have not followed this series but often see her books ... so you've given me good background on the particulars ... should I pick up a Maisie book to fall into. Is she getting old(er)?

    1. It's a lovely series, but Maisie never seems to have a birthday! So I have no idea how old she is, although if she was about 19/20 during her nursing experience in WWI, she must now be in her 40's during these early years of WWII.

  4. Great books for this time of our lives. I almost feel like I have escaped from all the turbulence around me when I pick up a book like this.

    1. They would be great books to get into during these Covid times - a lovely escape. I always save them for the winter months when I'm feeling blue from all the grey skies. It's lovely to retire early, snuggle under the bed clothes and have a cosy crime binge read :-)

  5. You are reminding me to pick up the Maisie Dobbs series where I left off. There was not a comment form on your more recent post; I wanted to tell you that I wrote down the author of the series, Sulari Gentil, to get the first book.

    1. Both series are perfect winter reads....and thanks for the reminder to untick the allow comments box for the post above. I keep forgetting to do it on new posts with the new look blogger platform!


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