Review: “Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear [2003]

I have been anticipating reading this series ever since I first heard about it from If You Can Read This and also from seeing its gorgeous covers floating around at work.

Maisie Dobbs is the first book in the series starring…Maisie Dobbs! Set in 1929, Maisie is trying to establish herself as a private investigator in a country, and world, that is still haunted by the horror of WWI. As a single, young woman working in an unorthodox career, Maisie was always going to be a little unusual. Her first case brings her Christopher Davenham who suspects that his wife is cheating on him. To Davenham’s surprise, Maisie questions his intentions with any information Maisie will provide him about his wife:

“The information I gather will be presented in a context. It is in light of that context that we must continue our discussion, in order for you and your wife to build a future.”

“My job is rather more complex than you might have imagined, Mr Davenham. I am responsible for the safety of all parties. And this is so even when I am dealing with society’s more criminal elements.” – p. 14

Integrity and morality is what sets Maisie apart from the typical private investigator. She does eventually get to the bottom of Davenham’s wife’s regular, unexplained disappearances which is connected to the aftermath of the war, which in turn forces Maisie to remember her own past.

Born into a lowly, but well loved, family, Maisie is sent at the age of 13 to the Belgravia estate of Lady and Lord Compton to work as a maid. Harbouring a passion for reading and displaying deep intelligence, Maisie soon concocts a way to read her way through the Compton’s rich library undetected by sneaking up early in the morning before the household chores.

The feeling inside that [Maisie] experienced when she saw the books was akin to the hunger she felt as food was put on the table at the end of the working day. And she knew that she needed this sustenance as surely as her body need is fuel. – p. 87

The secret visits to the library continued for some time before she is caught out by Lady Compton. This ultimately works out to Maisie’s advantage who demonstrates her intelligence and  becomes the Compton’s and their family friend, a highly regarded intellectual, Dr. Maurice Blanche’s protege. Life goes quite well for Maisie until the outbreak of the war where she eventually volunteers herself as a nurse and she is shipped to France.

The past and present becomes interconnected. To solve her case, Maisie must not only analyse the physical, but also the psychological, scars left by the war, horrors unforseen by anybody in the world.

Maisie Dobbs is a lovely first book and establishes the characters and setting. This is indeed somewhat a cozy crime fiction but the psychological examination of WWI and the surviving soldiers return to society gives it an edge. Maisie is an interesting character but I couldn’t help thinking some areas of her life were cliched and at times, she seemed a bit weak. However, I did thoroughly enjoy this first book and will seek out the other Maisie Dobbs books soon! And is it terrible of me to think that this would make the most lovely mini series?


  1. No, I want to see that mini series made as well! 🙂 I feel like there is a lot of potential for the adaptation to flesh out Maisie’s character. I mean, the books are nice mostly and excellent cosy reading, but they could have been amazing.

    1. I’m just thinking that that particular era translates onto film so well. I agree, a nice read but could have been much more spectacular.

  2. I was initially a big fan of this series when I first started reading it, but it began to feel a bit tired to me after I made it to book 5 or so. I also felt like the quality suffered and that Maisie herself wasn’t developing as much as I would like. But I really did enjoy the first few books in the series and I think a miniseries could potentially be really amazing.

    1. That’s a bit sad that it falls a little flat later in the series. I’m hoping the second book will be much better. Which was your favourite? I’m probably slightly biased by their amazing covers!

  3. I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. Initially I was going to wait until I had finished reading the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood due to their similar settings. I seem to have fallen off that series so I guess it is safe to start this one now!

  4. I also stopped reading after book 5 but I think that was just because I had started blogging and then became overwhelmed by other books. I’m looking forward to taking up the series again. Have you also tried David Roberts’ Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne mysteries? There’s more of a political slant to them (i.e. Spanish Civil War and communism) but they’re pretty good too.

  5. I have really enjoyed the Maisie Dobb stories as well; I think she really hits her stride about the 3rd book. And yes, it would be a great mini-series – preferably done by PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre.

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