I never took myself for a fan of mysteries, unlike my dear Mother who was absolutely raved about Dick Francis. My brothers and I knew better than to interrupt her in the midst of a late-night read after goodnights had been doled out. But last year my sister-in-law introduced me to Maisie Dobbs, the iconic English sleuth created by Jacqueline Winspear. I take all of Terry’s recommendations seriously–she has been my go-to-gal for all things literary ever since she introduced me to fantasy matriarch Anne McCaffrey when I was twelve years old. As I stood in awe of her vast bookshelves, she reached down to the lowest shelf, selected one small paperback and handed it to me with a knowing smile on her face that I have not forgotten. This led to a twenty year love affair with the planet Pern and all its dragon-riding inhabitants. That’s right, dragons. I collected first editions, unique paperbacks, boxed sets–even had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Ms. McCaffrey on one of her rare trips from Dragonhold, Scotland to America. What a thrill for this young bibliophile.
As expected, Terry’s recommendation did not disappoint. Within two months I had read all seven of Ms. Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books with a voracity that surprised even me. And I found myself caught up just in time for the highly anticipated next book, A Lesson in Secrets, which just published this March. Lucky me! But my fortune was going to become even sweeter as I soon found myself meeting Ms. Winspear this month at the fabulous San Francisco indie bookstore Bookshop at West Portal, the last event of her global book tour!
Ms. Winspear was delightful, but let’s face it, all British are. What is it about the British that is so endearing, so charming? I mean, a Brit could throw out the word ‘diarrhea’ and make it sound like something you’d actually want to have! But I digress.
Ms. Winspear’s lecture regarding plot development, story origins, and her research methodologies was riveting. The series itself takes place during and after the first World War and came about because of the experiences of Ms. Winspear’s grandfather who was severaly wounded and shellshocked in World War I. In learning about all that he and so many of his fellow veterans went through, Ms. Winspear came upon the idea to create a series of books that not only entertained but educated, bringing so many of us out of the darkness of our own ignorance.
My own grandfather served in World War I as a green U.S. Navy doctor in France, as a physician aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in World War II, and ran a Naval hospital stateside throughout the Korean War. My grandmother survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor and wrote out the story in a journal that has tragically been misplaced amongst the family. You’d think I’d really know a thing or two about war. But I don’t. Thanks to Ms. Winspear’s books, I have committed myself to learning this history in meaningful ways. As hard as it is to look the horrible facts straight on, I’m doing it.
In this story, Maisie is in the employ of the Crown, working within the backdrop of Fascism which is slowly threading its way through Europe, like a dull and infectious needle. Modern readers such as myself, know the precursors to World War II are playing out, and we watch helplessly with that cold certainty that ultimately these characters, indeed the whole world are destined to become embroiled once again in the catastrophe of global warfare, all due to the punitive decisions handed down by victors at the conclusion of World War I.
I had no idea that women played such a pivotal role in these wars, especially World War I, but it is true. They were never given their due either, but Ms. Winspear brings female war-time efforts and accomplishments to the forefront with her series. There were more than 54,000 British women and girls serving in Intelligence roles in World War I. That is a staggering number.
There is nothing better than falling in love with a series. It is the best kind of long-term relationship. You simply can’t get enough of the characters–they become your friends and family. Such is the case with Maisie Dobbs and all of the other characters in this series. I don’t want to give any of it away, but suffice it to say, from the very first story, the reader is captivated by young, underdog Maisie. She is strong, honest, loyal, loving, wickedly smart, and wounded. She is someone you’d like to know very well, someone you’d like to sit with and have a “cuppa.” She is my kind of character. And this is my kind of series.