I’ve been speeding my way through the Maisie Dobbs series, not only because I’m loving the books, or because I’m participating in Book Club Girl’s Read Along, but because I’m on tap to review The Mapping of Love and Death (number 7 in the series) on February 22 for TLC Tours. Once I started reading this series, I knew I couldn’t read them out of order – I’m pretty compulsive that way anyhow, but the Maisie Dobbs books definitely build on one another, especially in terms of what goes on in Maisie’s life and in the wider society in which she operates.
And speaking of the wide world around Maisie (which is England between the great wars, circa 1929-1932), the author’s treatment of what’s happening in society is one of my most favorite elements about these mystery novels. Each book takes an element of societal change and addresses it, usually in a very subtle, but effective and pointed way.
Winspear has addressed everything from women’s rights and racism to the installation of the telephone and indoor plumbing. She looks at class distinction, and the way barriers to advancement changed after the war. Maisie herself, an unmarried, independent business woman, is a standard bearer for the kind of widespread changes going on the world around her. In Pardonable Lies, she takes a further step in her role as self-sufficient modern woman by deciding to purchase her own flat, something practically unheard of in that time and place.
Pardonable Lies addresses the issue of homosexuality, which was a topic no one wanted to discuss in the early half of the 20th century. Maisie herself must come to grips with whether to tell her client the truth about his son, a man who has chosen to let his parents presume him dead rather than “come out” to them. Eventually, she agrees to keep the man’s secret, fearing the devastation the truth would bring to his life and to his father. Maisie, a woman who believes in learning the truth and telling it plain, decides that in some cases a lie is pardonable in favor of a greater good – not an easy lesson for her to learn.
When reading a series one on top of the other, the reader runs the risk of becoming saturated with the character. It’s a mark of Winspear’s talent as a writer that each book carries enough distinction to keep the reader interested and attentive, and prevent you from becoming tired of the characters. One way she does this is through her historical exploration of society and the changes that were occurring during this pivotal time in history.
Just another reason I’m Mad About Maisie.