“Life is a riddle my dear. It is filled with clues along the way, with messages we struggle to understand. You’ve been working on the case of a cartographer; you should know that all maps are drawn in hindsight. And hindsight, if interpreted with care, is what brings us wisdom.”
In The Mapping of Love and Death, the seventh installment of the delightful Maisie Dobbs series of mystery novels, our intrepid heroine embarks on a mission to discover the truth about the wartime death of a young American cartographer. In doing so, she continues a journey of discovery about the map of her own life, as some familiar landmarks are lost while others are seen in an entirely new way, opening roads heretofore unseen.
It’s 1932, and Michael Clifton’s remains have been discovered in an underground bunker in France, a packet of love letters and a journal along with them. When war erupted in 1914, he had just purchased a tract of land in California; however, felt the call to serve his father’s native land, and offered his cartography skills to the British army. Three years later, he was missing in action, and his family have only now been notified of his certain death. They come to Maisie with questions about the young woman whose letters were found with him, and, even more importantly, with questions about the manner in which he died.
As usual, while unraveling the circumstances of Clifton’s death, Maisie learns even more important truths about her life. She is becoming more aware of her isolation and loneliness, and beginning to feel a real longing for a deep and lasting relationship. Although her journey through life has landed her at desired destination – becoming a “woman of independent means” who has “risen above her station” – she recognizes more frequent moments when her “aloneness takes on a darker hue” and the “chasm of emptiness” overcomes her. When an opportunity to mitigate this essential loneliness appears (from a quite unexpected source) Maisie must begin to do some serious “wayfinding” in her heart about the direction her future should take, all while facing one of her most devastating losses.
Having discovered this series about a month ago, I was excited when TLC Book Tours offered me the opportunity to read The Mapping of Love and Death. I’ve been ravenously reading each installment in order, and haven’t tired of them in the least, largely due to Winspear’s excellent writing, attention to historical detail, and her focus on developments in society during the years between the Great Wars. Winspear says, “I have always been drawn to the past through family history, a curiosity that has its roots in my grandfather’s experience in the Great War – he was wounded and shell shocked at the Somme in 1916. Even as a very young child, I understood the extent of his suffering and wondered how something so tragic could happen…”
In reading all these novels, I realize I’m often more interested in Maisie herself and her reactions to the case she’s involved in than I am in the actual “mystery” she’s trying to solve – how the case causes her to look at life and helps her make sense of her own circumstances and feelings. I like her introspection, her gentle determination, her ability to look herself clearly in the eye and accept who she is. Of all the novels, the “case” in The Mapping of Love and Death seemed the weakest to me, yet Maisie herself did not disappoint, as she began to embrace love once again even in the midst of a very personal grief.
I’ll be putting Maisie Dobbs aside for the time being, at least until A Lesson in Secrets is published next month. Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to seeing Jacqueline Winspear in person at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on March 31, 2011.
The Mapping of Love and Death, by Jacqueline Winspear
trade paperback with “extras” published in 2011 by Harper Perennial