An Incomplete Revenge

By JACQUELINE WINSPEAR

Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear’s amateur sleuth who has been dented and damaged by World War I shell shock, has a lot on her hands in her fifth outing, An Incomplete Revenge. There’s the case at hand: James Compton, son of her former employers, asks her to investigate “some funny business” surrounding an estate he’s planning to buy in Kent. Toss in arson, petty theft, the death of a close friend, and lingering ghosts from the War to End All Wars, and you’ve got enough to make even the most stout-hearted Sherlock weak-kneed. But Maisie’s heart is nothing if not stout, and she handles every setback with pluck and cool-headedness. The local villagers, still bitter over a wartime Zeppelin attack on their town, remain close-mouthed and suspicious of outsiders prying into the past, but Maisie continues her investigation, cutting through “the layers of truth and the web of lies that held a story together.” While Winspear’s writing has its faults — a distracting need to give a head-to-toe description of each character’s appearance and apparel, trite dialogue, and an overall lack of subtlety — the Maisie Dobbs mysteries have an undeniable appeal. Much of this stems from Maisie’s character: cool and enigmatic on the surface, she is like a porcelain vase that has been shattered and glued back together. In An Incomplete Revenge, she must face not only her own past but also the wounded spirit of Britain, which is still recovering from combat two decades after the Armistice. The crimes at the Kent estate nearly recede into the background as Maisie discovers the case is really one about national healing and reconciliation. -