Thursday, August 30, 2012

Birds of a Feather: Jacqueline Winspear

From the description of the book at the author's website:
An eventful year has passed for Maisie Dobbs. Since starting a one-woman private investigation agency in 1929 London, she now has a professional office in Fitzroy Square and an assistant, the happy-go-lucky Billy Beale. She has proven herself as a psychologist and investigator, and has even won over Detective Inspector Stratton of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad—an admirable achievement for a woman who worked her way from servant to scholar to sleuth, and who also served as a battlefield nurse in the Great War.
It's now the early Spring of 1930. Stratton is investigating a murder case in Coulsden, while Maisie has been summoned to Dulwich to find a runaway heiress.
This is the second book in the Maisie Dobbs series. I was initially interested in this series because the first book in the series, titled Maisie Dobbs, was getting a lot of good publicity. When it came out it got a very good reception from most critics, and received the Agatha and Macavity awards for best first novel.

This book and the two others in the series that I have read so far are both mysteries and historical novels, The novels are set in Europe in the time period following World War I and revolve around life following the war and the effects it had on the people. Maisie's development from a servant in a rich household to an educated young woman with a career, and the relationships she has with friends and relatives are just as important as the mystery. Because I like the setting and I want to read about the time period and the events and social history of that time, this is an important element for me.

I read Birds of a Feather recently, and I did like the historical setting. The book is very successful at bringing alive the problems people are left to deal with after the Great War.  Most people have lost relatives and friends. Men have come home from war with injuries that plague them for the rest of their years. Times are hard for most people, and there is a lot of unemployment.

The mystery in this book starts with an investigation of a runaway daughter. The father who wants her found and returned is the owner of specialty grocery stores and is doing quite well financially. He and his employees have experienced many losses from the war, and he aids in the support of any families that lost loved ones in his employ. Maisie begins to suspect that the young woman's disappearance is related to at least one recent death, and investigates the relationship between these events.

I found the solution of the mystery to be less satisfying than the overall story. I did not like the emphasis on Maisie's feelings or intuition. I can buy that some people have that gift, and it really doesn't have to ruin the story, but it isn't my favorite approach in mystery novels. I also did not like that Maisie discovers clues early in the story but the crucial information is withheld from the reader.

Although Maisie is a fully realized character, and we know much of the joys, concerns, fears, and pains of her life, the supporting characters are two-dimensional. For example, I did not get any feeling of the relationship developing with the two young men who are romantically interested in her. To be fair, a lot of reviewers like the character development in these books, so it may depend on your taste in books and how information is imparted to the reader.

This has been a hard book for me to review because I really did enjoy it but I noticed a lot of flaws. To me, the big question when I review a book is whether I enjoyed the book and want to read more by the author. I did find the book enjoyable, but if the setting wasn't in a period I love, I would probably not continue the series. I guess the pluses outweigh the minuses for me. I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.

I suspect a lot of mystery readers are more forgiving than I and would like this book, so I recommend it to those readers who like this type of book. Whether non-mystery readers would enjoy it so much with the element of crime solving included, I am not so sure.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge

Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
World War I Reading Challenge


Peggy Ann said...

I read one Maisie book and it didn't do anything for me. I love the time period and the covers but haven't read anymore. Very nice review!

TracyK said...

Thanks. Good to know I am not the only one who finds problems with them. I see a lot of very positive reviews out there. A very popular series.

Anna and Serena said...

Thanks for reading this for the WWI reading challenge, Winspear's books are very popular. I've got your review linked on the WWI reviews page and snippet from your review will appear on Sept. 10 on the main page.