09 May 2009

Detail-filled pictures of an era

Dan Conrad mentioned Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries here and the next thing I know, Nancy has brought home two of them from the library. What was I to do but read them before they had to be returned (one of them all the way to La Crescent, Minnesota).

The first book was last year's An Incomplete Revenge. One of Maisie's patrons, James Compton, hires her to do some background investigation in preparation for a major corporate purchase. There's a factory he wants to buy, but it's part of a huge estate. He has lived in Canada for a number of years and is no longer very familiar with the estate.

Maisie, many Londoners, and some gypsies are in the area for hops picking season. And there are many local oddities that can't easily be understood by outsiders. But there's due diligence to be done. And hops to be picked. And, of course, mysteries to be solved. The mysteries and the plot revolve around recovery from the traumas (personal and public) of World War I. The characters and the stories add human details to one of my grad school topics. I probably would have been more interested 40 years ago if I'd had personal responses like these.

What really sets Winspear's books apart are the images she creates of England in the 1930s. She describes in detail what people wear, what buildings look like, how rooms are decorated, and the colors of the landscape. All that description could get tedious (and when I tried to listen to a recorded book while driving, it did get tedious).

But I appreciate the detail when I'm reading. The pictures in my mind are much more detailed than they are when I read most other books. As I've said before, Winspear and her "cannot be named 'Cheef Resurcher'" must do incredible background research into fashion, decorating, architecture, automobiles, roads, agriculture, demography, and urban landscapes. (My only complaint is that Maisie's MG is so reliable that the car must be fictional.)

The second book is Among the Mad. Maisie gets "seconded" to a Scotland Yard investigation of threats to London and His Majesty's government. Military intelligence also is involved. While Scotland Yard is chasing after political radicals of many stripes and the military spooks are looking for alien agents, Maisie is focused on war veterans who have been misused and forgotten by society.

What we'd call post-traumatic stress is part of all Winspear's stories. Maisie is a recovering victim (she was a front line nurse in France during the war and was wounded). But the effects of PTSD and the morality of weapons development are central to this story and to an important sub-plot. And Winspear seems to be setting the stage for explaining how PTSD helped create the enviornent for World War II.

Thanks to Dan and Nancy for reminding me about Jacqueline Winspear and her Maisie Dobbs stories and for putting them in my hands. I enjoyed reading them.

See Winspear in the blog index for other reactions to her books.

So, if you've read any of them, tell us what you think. There's a comment link below and you can send me your thoughts and, with your permission, I'll add them here.

No comments: