I have to admit that I selected this novel because it is set in England between 1910 and 1929, and I really like that era, but just between you, me, and the gatepost, I chose it because I have a photograph of my mother (who was born in 1912) taken at the age of 16 with her BFF, standing by the running board of a car of that era, wearing cloche hats and looking terribly stylish and VERY 1920ish. And her BFF’s name was: yep. Maisie Dobbs!
So of course, given all those factors, I HAD to read it.
Maisie, a Londoner, is the daughter of a costermonger and his sweet wife, who died when Maisie was about 12 or so. OK, in case you don’t know what a costermonger is but don’t want to admit it, I’ll tell you. A costermonger is a street seller of fruit (such as apples) and vegetables, in London and other British towns. Still a few around, and we even have them here in Sunny Mexico. Monger means ‘seller’. So anyway, deep in debt from the wife’s illness, and unable to send his daughter to school, her dad secures a position for her as an in-between maid at a big house, where she discovers the library, and sneaks down in the middle of the night to read the books.
Gadzooks! She is discovered one night, but when the Lady Rowen sees her notes, realizes that this kid could be a contender, calls in her friend who is a …. crumb, not sure exactly what he is, but is highly intelligent and is counsel to all kinds of highly placed people. He assesses her abilities, decides she is university material, and proposes to teach her himself with a view to her eventually entering Cambridge.
She has one year in university, the war breaks out, she goes to a houseparty with her wealthy roommate from college and meets a handsome doctor who is home on leave from the battlefields in France. When the next school term finishes, she decides she must do something for the war effort, lies about her age to become a nursing assistant in a London hospital, from where she is then sent to a first aid station in France, where she again meets the nice young doctor.
After the war, she comes home to work with Maurice, the mentor, as a private investigator, and we first meet her as she has just opened her first little office as an independent investigator and begins a new case.
It is a wonderful story, weaving the mystery of her case into a larger mystery, all of which involves the war experiences of everyone concerned. I have given you only the bones; it is a beautifully written, complex story of not only our protagonist, but of England during the war and post war period.
It was written in 2003, and started off a series that now has nine volumes to its credit. And I intend to read every one of them.
A side note: I was always pissed that my mother named me Martha and not Maisie. I always wanted to be Maisie. Maybe in my next life.