Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Leaving Everything Most Loved," by Jacqueline Winspear

As I have written before, all my reading life I have enjoyed mysteries, especially those of a certain kind, those that some call English cozies, although I also like those about California women detectives. Like millions of other mystery readers, I started with Agatha Christie, in my case when I found a cache of her books on a shelf under the stairs of the living room area of my boarding school dormitory in India, and continued from there. There have been periods, however, when I have been tired of mysteries and stopped reading them for several years. I have just been in one of those periods, during which I stopped reading even new novels by my favorite mystery writers. For some reason, though, I recently picked up Jacqueline Winspear’s latest Maisie Dobbs novel, after choosing not to read the last couple of books in the series. This one, “Leaving Everything Most Loved” (Harper, 2013), turned out to be quite enjoyable and satisfying, reminding me of why I have liked this series so much from its inception. The series is about Maisie Dobbs, a woman who grew up poor, but through her interest in books and learning, was helped by a rich family to become a nurse during World War I, where she saw many terrible things, and then was helped by a mentor to become a private detective who uses psychology as much as traditional detective work to solve her cases. There is an almost spiritual element to her detecting. I was particularly interested in this current novel because it features characters from India, who were a real novelty in London at the time of this novel, the 1930s. Along with the mystery – the murders of two young women – the novel explores topics of immigration and prejudice, as well as a thread throughout all the Maisie novels: the terrible after-effects of war, physical and mental, on soldiers and their families. Although these are serious topics, Winspear is able to integrate them into her stories in a way that we note and grieve them, but that does not overwhelm the main thrust of the stories: the detection that solves the mysteries of the murders. There is also the plot thread of Maisie's romance and the uncertainty of whether this strong, independent woman will choose to marry, or to postpone marriage until she has traveled the world, something she feels drawn to do. I don’t know yet whether reading this one mystery was an aberration on my part, or whether I have cycled back to wanting to read more. Maybe an Elizabeth George -- another favorite in the past -- will be next?

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