From the Publisher
Praise for Maisie Dobbs
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Agatha Award Winner for Best First Novel
Macavity Award Winner for Best First Novel
Alex Award Winner
"[A] deft debut novel . . . Romantic readers sensing a story-within-a-story won't be disappointed. But first they must be prepared to be astonished at the sensitivity and wisdom with which Maisie resolves her first professional assignment."
—The New York Times
"The reader familiar with Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency . . . might think of Maisie Dobbs as its British counterpart . . . [Winspear] has created a winning character about whom readers will want to read more."
—The Associated Press
"[Maisie Dobbs] catches the sorrow of a lost generation in the character of one exceptional woman."
“A fine new sleuth for the twenty-first century. Simultaneously self-reliant and vulnerable, Maisie isn't a character I'll easily forget.”
—Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Inspector Lynley series
“The book is much more than a cosy mystery—it is also about women's growing emancipation and the profound changes to society after the First World War.”
—Mail on Sunday
"[Maisie Dobbs] catches the sorrow of a lost generation in the character of one exceptional woman."
“A delightful mix of mystery, war story and romance set in WWI–era England . . . A refreshing heroine, appealing secondary characters and an absorbing plot [make Winspear a] writer to watch.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“A poignant and compelling story . . . [Winspear handles] human drama with compassionate sensitivity while skillfully avoiding cloying sentimentality. At the end, the reader is left yearning for more. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
From the Hardcover edition.
The New York Times
… when Maisie's investigation into a convalescent home for such men sends her back in time to her experiences as a battlefield nurse, she must face her own nightmares. Winspear takes her through her ordeal with great compassion -- and the promise of brighter days ahead. Marilyn Stasio
In Winspear's inspired debut novel, a delightful mix of mystery, war story and romance set in WWI-era England, humble housemaid Maisie Dobbs climbs convincingly up Britain's social ladder, becoming in turn a university student, a wartime nurse and ultimately a private investigator. Both na ve and savvy, Maisie remains loyal to her working-class father and many friends who help her along the way. Her first sleuthing case, which begins as a simple marital infidelity investigation, leads to a trail of war-wounded soldiers lured to a remote convalescent home in Kent from which no one seems to emerge alive. The Retreat, specializing in treating badly deformed battlefield casualties, is run by an apparently innocuous former officer who requires his patients to sign over their assets to his tightly run institution. At different points in her remarkable career, Maisie crosses paths with a military surgeon to whom she's attracted despite his disfigurement from a bomb blast at the front. A refreshing heroine, appealing secondary characters and an absorbing plot, marred only by a somewhat bizarre conclusion, make Winspear a new writer to watch. Agent, Amy Rennert. (July 9) Forecast: Blurbs from Elizabeth George and Charles Todd will alert their readers to the quality of this book, which ought to draw mainstream and romance readers as well. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From its dedication to the author's paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, who were both injured during World War I, to its powerful conclusion, this is a poignant and compelling story that explores war's lingering and insidious impact on its survivors. The book opens in spring 1929 as Maisie Dobbs opens an office dedicated to "discreet investigations" and traverses back and forth between her present case and the long shadows cast by World War I. What starts out as a plea by an anxious husband for Maisie to discover why his wife regularly lies about her whereabouts turns into a journey of discovery whose answers and indeed whose very questions lie in a quiet rural cemetery where many war dead are buried. In Maisie, Winspear has created a complex new investigator who, tutored by the wise Maurice Blanche, recognizes that in uncovering the actions of the body, she is accepting responsibility for the soul. British-born but now living in America, first novelist Winspear writes in simple, effective prose, capturing the post-World War I era effectively and handling human drama with compassionate sensitivity while skillfully avoiding cloying sentimentality. At the end, the reader is left yearning for more discreet investigations into the nature of what it means to feel truth. Highly recommended.-Caroline Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Maisie is 14 when her mother dies, and she must go into service to help her father make ends meet. Her prodigious intellect and the fact that she is sneaking into the manor library at night to read Hume, Kierkegaard, and Jung alert Lady Rowan to the fact that she has an unusual maid. She arranges for Maisie to be tutored, and the girl ultimately qualifies for Cambridge. She goes for a year, only to be drawn by the need for nurses during the Great War. After serving a grueling few years in France and falling in love with a young doctor, Maisie puts up a shingle in 1929 as a private investigator. She is a perceptive observer of human nature, works well with all classes, and understands the motivations and demons prevalent in postwar England. Teens will be drawn in by her first big case, seemingly a simple one of infidelity, but leading to a complex examination of an almost cultlike situation. The impact of the war on the country is vividly conveyed. A strong protagonist and a lively sense of time and place carry readers along, and the details lead to further thought and understanding about the futility and horror of war, as well as a desire to hear more of Maisie. This is the beginning of a series, and a propitious one at that.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A romance/investigation debut novel set firmly in the spiritual aftermath of WWI. Maisie Dobbs, recently turned private investigator in 1929 England, had been a nurse back during the war to end all wars, so she knows about wounds-both those to the body and those to the soul. It's just a month after she sets up shop that she gets her first interesting case: What initially looks like just another infidelity matter turns out to be a woman's preoccupation with a dead man, Vincent Weathershaw, in a graveyard. Flashback to Maisie's upbringing: her transition from servant class to the intellectual class when she shows interest in the works of Hume, Kierkegaard, and Jung. She doesn't really get to explore her girlhood until she makes some roughshod friends in the all-woman ambulance corps that serves in France, and she of course falls for a soldier, Simon, who writes her letters but then disappears. Now, in 1929, Maisie's investigation into Vincent Weathershaw leads her to the mysterious Retreat, run like a mix between a barracks and a monastery, where soldiers still traumatized by the war go to recover. Maisie knows that her curiosity just might get her into trouble-yet she trusts her instincts and sends an undercover assistant into the Retreat in the hopes of finding out more about Vincent. But what will happen, she worries, if one needs to retreat from the Retreat? Will she discover the mystery behind her client's wife's preoccupation with a man who spent time there? And by any chance, albeit slight, might she encounter that old lover who disappeared back in 1917 and who she worried might be dead? Winspear rarely attempts to elevate her prose past the common romance, and what might have been ajourney through a strata of England between the wars is instead just simple, convenient and contrived. Prime candidate for a TV movie. Agents: Amy Rennert, Randi Murray/Amy Rennert Agency
Read an Excerpt
Even if she hadn’t been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well-turned ankle. She had what his old mother would have called “bearing.” A way of walking, with her shoulders back and head held high, as she pulled on her black gloves while managing to hold on to a somewhat battered black document case.
“Old money,” muttered Jack to himself. “Stuck-up piece of nonsense.”
Jack expected the woman to pass him by, so he stamped his feet in a vain attempt to banish the sharp needles of cold creeping up through his hobnailed boots. He fanned a half dozen copies of the Daily Express over one arm, anticipating a taxi-cab screeching to a halt and a hand reaching out with the requisite coins.
“Oh, stop—may I have an Express please, love?” appealed a voice as smooth as spooned treacle.
The newspaper vendor looked up slowly, straight into eyes the color of midnight in summer, an intense shade that seemed to him to be darker than blue. She held out her money.
“O’ course, miss, ’ere you are. Bit nippy this morning, innit?”
She smiled, and as she took the paper from him before turning to walk away, she replied, “Not half. It’s brass monkey weather; better get yourself a nice cuppa before too long.”
Jack couldn’t have told you why he watched the woman walk all the way down Warren Street toward Fitzroy Square. But he did know one thing: She might have bearing, but from the familiar way she spoke to him, she certainly wasn’t from old money.
At the end of Warren Street, Maisie Dobbs stopped in front of the black front door of a somewhat rundown Georgian terraced house, tucked the Daily Express under her left arm, carefully opened her document case, and took out an envelope containing a letter from her landlord and two keys. The letter instructed her to give the outside door a good shove after turning the key in the lock, to light the gas lamp at the base of the stairs carefully, to mind the top step of the first flight of stairs—which needed to be looked at—and to remember to lock her own door before leaving in the evening. The letter also told her that Billy Beale, the caretaker, would put up her nameplate on the outside door if she liked or, it suggested, perhaps she would prefer to remain anonymous.
Maisie grinned. I need the business, she said to herself. I’m not here to remain anonymous.
Maisie suspected that Mr. Sharp, the landlord, was unlikely to live up to his name, and that he would pose questions with obvious answers each time they met. However, his directions were apt: The door did indeed need a shove, but the gas lamp, once lit, hardly dented the musky darkness of the stairwell. Clearly there were some things that needed to be changed, but all in good time. For the moment Maisie had work to do, even if she had no actual cases to work on.
Minding the top step, Maisie turned right on the landing and headed straight for the brown painted door on the left, the one with a frosted glass window and a To Let sign hanging from the doorknob. She removed the sign, put the key into the lock, opened the door, and took a deep breath before stepping into her new office. It was a single room with a gas fire, a gas lamp on each wall, and one sash window with a view of the building across the street and the rooftops beyond. There was an oak desk with a matching chair of dubious stability, and an old filing cabinet to the right of the window.
Lady Rowan Compton, her patron and former employer, had been correct; Warren Street wasn’t a particularly salubrious area. But if she played her cards right, Maisie could afford the rent and have some money left over from the sum she had allowed herself to take from her savings. She didn’t want a fancy office, but she didn’t want an out-and-out dump either. No, she wanted something in the middle, something for everyone, something central, but then again not in the thick of things. Maisie felt a certain comfort in this small corner of Bloomsbury. They said that you could sit down to tea with just about anyone around Fitzroy Square, and dine with a countess and a carpenter at the same table, with both of them at ease in the company. Yes, Warren Street would be good for now. The tricky thing was going to be the nameplate. She still hadn’t solved the problem of the nameplate.
As Lady Rowan had asked, “So, my dear, what will you call yourself? I mean, we all know what you do, but what will be your trade name? You can hardly state the obvious. ‘Finds missing people, dead or alive, even when it’s themselves they are looking for’ really doesn’t cut the mustard. We have to think of something succinct, something that draws upon your unique talents.”
“I was thinking of ‘Discreet Investigations,’ Lady Rowan. What do you think?”
“But that doesn’t tell anyone about how you use your mind, my dear—what you actually do.”
“It’s not really my mind I’m using, it’s other people’s. I just ask the questions.”
“Poppycock! What about ‘Discreet Cerebral Investigations’?”
Maisie smiled at Lady Rowan, raising an eyebrow in mock dismay at the older woman’s suggestion. She was at ease, seated in front of the fireplace in her former employer’s library, a fireplace she had once cleaned with the raw, housework-roughened hands of a maid in service.
“No, I’m not a brain surgeon. I’m going to think about it for a bit, Lady Rowan. I want to get it right.”
The gray-haired aristocrat leaned over and patted Maisie on the knee. “I’m sure that whatever you choose, you will do very well, my dear. Very well indeed.”
So it was that when Billy Beale, the caretaker, knocked on the door one week after Maisie moved into the Warren Street office, asking if there was a nameplate to put up at the front door, Maisie handed him a brass plate bearing the words “M. Dobbs. Trade and Personal Investigations.”
“Where do you want it, miss? Left of the door or right of the door?”
He turned his head very slightly to one side as he addressed her. Billy was about thirty years old, just under six feet tall, muscular and strong, with hair the color of sun-burnished wheat. He seemed agile, but worked hard to disguise a limp that Maisie had noticed immediately.
“Where are the other names situated?”
“On the left, miss, but I wouldn’t put it there if I were you.”
“Oh, and why not, Mr. Beale?”
“Billy. You can call me Billy. Well, people don’t really look to the left, do they? Not when they’re using the doorknob, which is on the right. That’s where the eyes immediately go when they walk up them steps, first to that lion’s ’ead door knocker, then to the knob, which is on the right. Best ’ave the plate on the right. That’s if you want their business.”
“Well, Mr. Beale, let’s have the plate on the right. Thank you.”
“Billy, miss. You can call me Billy.”
Billy Beale went to fit the brass nameplate. Maisie sighed deeply and rubbed her neck at the place where worry always sat when it was making itself at home.
“Miss . . .”
Billy poked his head around the door, tentatively knocking at the glass as he removed his flat cap.
“What is it, Mr. Beale?”
“Billy, miss. Miss, can I have a quick word?”
“Yes, come in. What is it?”
“Miss, I wonder if I might ask a question? Personal, like.” Billy continued without waiting for an answer. “Was you a nurse? At a casualty clearing station? Outside of Bailleul?”
Maisie felt a strong stab of emotion, and instinctively put her right hand to her chest, but her demeanor and words were calm.
“Yes. Yes, I was.”
“I knew it!” said Billy, slapping his cap across his knee. “I just knew it the minute I saw those eyes. That’s all I remember, after they brought me in. Them eyes of yours, miss. Doctor said to concentrate on looking at something while ’e worked on me leg. So I looked at your eyes, miss. You and ’im saved my leg. Full of shrapnel, but you did it, didn’t you? What was ’is name?”
For a moment, Maisie’s throat was paralyzed. Then she swallowed hard. “Simon Lynch. Captain Simon Lynch. That must be who you mean.”
“I never forgot you, miss. Never. Saved my life, you did.”
Maisie nodded, endeavoring to keep her memories relegated to the place she had assigned them in her heart, to be taken out only when she allowed.
“Well, miss. Anything you ever want doing, you just ’oller. I’m your man. Stroke of luck, meeting up with you again, innit? Wait till I tell the missus. You want anything done, you call me. Anything.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much. I’ll holler if I need anything. Oh, and Mr. . . . Billy, thank you for taking care of the sign.”
Billy Beale blushed and nodded, covered his burnished hair with his cap, and left the office.
Lucky, thought Maisie. Except for the war, I’ve had a lucky life so far. She sat down on the dubious oak chair, slipped off her shoes and rubbed at her feet. Feet that still felt the cold and wet and filth and blood of France. Feet that hadn’t felt warm in twelve years, since 1917.
She remembered Simon, in another life, it seemed now, sitting under a tree on the South Downs in Sussex. They had been on leave at the same time, not a miracle of course, but difficult to arrange, unless you had connections where connections counted. It was a warm day, but not one that took them entirely away from the fighting, for they could still hear the deep echo of battlefield cannonade from the other side of the English Channel, a menacing sound not diminished by the intervening expanse of land and sea. Maisie had complained then that the damp of France would never leave her, and Simon, smiling, had pulled off her walking shoes to rub warmth into her feet.
“Goodness, woman, how can anyone be that cold and not be dead?”
They both laughed, and then fell silent. Death, in such times, was not a laughing matter.