“A Lesson In Secrets” – Historical Fiction Has a Broader Perspective Than a Textbook

Book Review : A Lesson In Secrets, A Maisi Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

The Maisie Dobbs novels span from the end of WWI to the cusp of WWII in the most recent addition, A Lesson In Secrets. I have been very interested in this series because it addresses the social situation in England rather than the military stratagem. This series also explores the breaking down of the Monarchical era and the role of women. Overall, I have enjoyed this series though I find the tone to be slightly melancholy and dearly hope that Maisie will find a greater joy in her drab existence. I also question the authenticity of anyone exploring Eastern thought in England in the early 1900’s though the language will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the “New Age” trend in current times.

Spoiler Alert!

Maisie Dobbs is still mourning the loss of her beloved instructor Maurice, and thinks of him as she accepts a new assignment working on a case for the Secret Service. Maisie takes on the position of a junior lecturer at a private college to assess the tone of the teachers and students to see if there are any “threats to the crown”. While there the college’s founder is murdered which leads to an unraveling of layers upon layers of secrets. Back at Maisie’s office there are other storms brewing that she cannot fully take care of herself.

One of Maisie’s hardest things to face is her own relationship with James Compton. She is riddled with fears unwilling to accept that happiness possible.

I am still considering if I find it plausible that a respectable woman, that has had to work against the establishment and had such a stalwart upbringing would actually jeopardize her position by having sexual relations with James, who professes to love her.  James Compton has grown from the spoiled boy of privilege, who took no thought of the repercussions for a casual sexual relation with a serving girl, to a man of deep consideration. I have to ask, would James have treated Maisie so casually by having sex with her after his previous experience? The early 1900’s had a double standard that it was acceptable for men to be sexually active, but a woman who behaved in the same way was a tramp. I cannot see sensible Maisie being a tramp, even if she did bob her hair like a flapper. I would have been more comfortable if Maisie and James had married rather than sleeping together because of the historical time frame and I thought each character would show more caution wanting to protect themselves. I think the modern standard of sexuality was used when writing this relationship.

A Lesson In Secrets was a satisfying read full of twists and layers of complexity. As always I feel saddened by the atrocities of war that continue to be revealed. Man’s inhumanity to man is always shocking. We can always hope that our government will learn that secrets will be told and it is best to live a life worth knowing. I particularly enjoy historical fiction because it makes history come alive.

3.75 stars out of 5

– Michelle

“Elegy For Eddie, A Maisie Dobbs Novel” –

Posted on June 8, 2012

Book Review : Elegy For Eddie, A Masie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

Spoiler Alert!

Maisie Dobbs has lived in two worlds, growing up she was part of the serving class and due to fortunate circumstances she is now among the privileged class. These two worlds collide leaving Maisie questioning where she truly belongs.

Eddie Pettit was a gentle man with a special talent working with horses, unfortunately he was killed in a tragic accident. The costermongers are convinced that his death was not an accident and have hired Maisie to find out who is responsible. During the course of the investigation Maisie discovers that there are connection with a press baron, Douglas Partridge, the husband of her best friend, and Winston Churchill. As the lies grow Maisie finds national security may be at risk and she is in a personal dilemna of how to resolve the case and see justice.

Adult Point of View

Winspear has a unique way of capturing Europe during the bleak times surrounding the Great Wars. I find that I am fascinated by her stories and pulled in, and yet I wouldn’t say the novels are uplifting or cheerful, but rather they are grey.

Elegy For Eddie was not my favorite in the Maisie Dobbs series, yet I was still enthralled while reading to better understand how all the threads would be woven together. Maisie’s character is quite complex as she tries to sort out her feelings and learn how to work with others. I was hoping that she had put aside all her feelings of inadequacy and would be able to move forward with ease. I am very disappointed that Maisie is having second thoughts about her relationship with James, it seemed like they both deserve something good that they could have found in each other. I also feel unsettled that Maisie would allow murderers to slip away so easily even if it was for “national security”. The death of the investigative writer seemed to be left as a bit of a loose end. The newspaper baron, though not directly responsible for Eddie’s death, surely knew his orders for silence were likely to result in his death. And finally, Maisie accepted that the costermongers had taken justice into their own hands to avenge Eddie, and even felt responsible for their actions because she should have predicted that they would see justice done as they saw fit.

It is interesting to speculate on the state of mind English citizens may have had recovering from WWI and their wariness to enter another war. I believe that Elegy for Eddie makes a reasonable case that the general citizens were unaware of the possible consequences of the rise of Hitler to power, while the politicians and others in power may have been more aware and proactive in their approach.

The previous books in the series are 1. Maisie Dobbs  2. Birds of a Feather 3. Pardonable Lies 4. Messenger of Truth 5. An Incomplete Revenge 6. Among the Mad 7. The Mapping of Love and Death 8. A Lesson in Secrets

3.25 out of 5 stars

– Michelle

Book Review : Leaving Everything Most Loved, A Maisie Dobbs Novel
by Jacqueline Winspear

Spoiler Alert!

leaving everything most lovedThe death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction.

London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah’s hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street–penniless and far from their homeland–when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore.

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

One of the things I like about the Maisie Dobbs books is that they are not overly glamorous and sensational, however, they are thought provoking, provide historical insight and have wonderful characters. I particularly liked this Maise Dobb novel because it shows possible ramifications of British colonialization and prejudice. I also love a mystery when I am left with enough clues that I feel I should have been able to solve it, but can only guess “who done it” moments prior to the reveal.

Winspear did a wonderful job building the character Usha Pramal. Usha dies in the first few pages of the novel, but as the story progresses we learn more about what kind of woman she was and her fascinating personality and foibles. As I reflect back over this novel Usha is actually one of my favorite secondary characters in the series. Maisie has continued to grow in her deductive reasoning and believability as a detective. I am sorry that this novel seems to be a big set up for Maisie to let James go while she will continue to struggle with her demons of coming out of poverty and the affects of WWI. I would like to see Maisie  be able to have a normal relationship that grows into love and marriage. Though balancing a career and marriage is perhaps too blasé for a mystery novel.

I highly recommend this series.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

– Michelle

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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