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A Maisie Dobbs Mystery

By Jacqueline Winspear

Henry Holt, September, 2006 ($24.00)
ISBN: 0-8050-7898-3

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Lady Georgina Bassington-Hope comes to Masie Dobbs for help after her twin brother Nicholas dies while preparing his artwork for an exhibition. The authorities have written it off as a tragic accident, but Lady Georgina thinks otherwise. Her brother was meticulous and careful in his preparations, not given to taking risks or shortcuts. Also, the main piece in the exhibit, which no one but Nicholas has seen, is missing. She hires Maisie to find out the truth.

Lady Georgie is part of a Bohemian family. Older sister Noelle, who lost her husband in the Great War, is the only member without a creative talent. Brother Harry is a musician with a regrettable gambling habit and some very unsavory acquaintances. Maisie finds herself drawn to the colorful clan, while at the same time trying to keep a professional neutrality as she investigates the case.

Maisie is fairly content with her life. She has just bought her own flat, and her business is going well, even in the difficult economic climate of 1930's London. Her independence, however, comes at a cost. Her relationship with Dr. Andrew Dene is floundering because so much of her time and energy is spent on her job. Although she yearns for closeness to someone, she is unwilling to give up what she has worked so hard for.

Nicholas and some of his artist friends joined the Army expecting some kind of exciting adventure. Nick was seriously wounded, disillusioned and bitter, but the Army was not done with him. He was ordered to record the scenes of battle, and his art took a very dark turn. After being mustered out, he went to the United States and lost himself in the vast landscapes of the American west. His sister says he regained his soul there, and was able to return to England with a new point of view.

Although it has been twelve years since the end of the war, England is still feeling its effects. Men who fought for their country had been promised a better life, but that promise has not been kept. It is a daily struggle for men, many still carrying the scars of battle, to feed and cloth their families. Disease is rampant: the poor have little access to medical services, and no money to pay for it. Maisie's right hand man, Billy, is better off than many with the salary Maisie gives him, but his family is not immune to the illnesses that prey on the weak.

While the events in the story are related in many ways to things that happened in the Great War, there is also a foreshadowing of another war to come. Actions taken by some of the main characters might seem, if not illegal, at least morally wrong, but taken in context, and knowing what is to come in the near future, they make perfect sense.

Winspear's voice is unique, as is her character Maisie Dobbs. I did find myself drawing comparisons with Anne Perry, however, and fans of Ms. Perry will find these books equally enjoyable.

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