An Incomplete Revenge
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Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is commissioned to investigate a series of petty crimes and mysterious fires in a Kentish village during the annual hop picking. Maisie is able to bring both her experience gained as a frontline dressing station nurse in the First World War and knowledge of her own roots to help solve the mystery.
I liked this book overall, but I had one or two problems with it. It is a great read for fans of cozy mysteries with substance. There are a number of writers today who hark back to the traditional cozy mysteries of the heyday of writers like Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayer. Just as these giants of the mystery genre did, the contemporary writers, including Jacqueline Winspear, examine questions of evil and its consequences down through time, revenge, forgiveness, retribution and redemption. Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs is a psychic and a student of human nature. Usually the stories she appears in deal in the psychological toll of war, as several of Christie’s did. For me Winspear does a great job of dealing with these issues within the conventions of the mystery genre. These issues drive the plot, which is very believable and well-crafted. My only complaint with the plot is that the reader knows the solution to the mystery almost before Maisie does – it is perhaps rather obvious.
This transparency is perhaps because Winspear does such a good job of laying out for us all the historical background of the period between World Wars I and II in England. Given the background we understand the motives. Winspear is very good at conveying the class system and snobbery of the time. My quibble with “An Incomplete Revenge” is that for me the book does not have a light enough touch when dealing with these issues. Agatha Christie, writing in the 1930s was able to send up prejudice with gentle satire. Sometimes for me Winspear is either stuffy or didactic.
Her research is very extensive, obviously. Readers who like arcane or exotic details in their mysteries will love the descriptions of the way of life of the Roma, or Gypsies, who go hop picking every summer in Kent. I also particularly enjoyed Winspear’s writing when she described the late summer weather, scents, and sights in the Kentish fields.
I’d love to hear from readers who have discovered other historical mystery writers like Jacqueline Winspear.
Here is another view on the book:
REVIEW: Publisher’s Weekly 11/26/2007: In Edgar-finalist Winspear’s enjoyable fifth installment in her Maisie Dobbs series (after 2006′s Messenger of Truth), the psychologist/investigator digs deep into a village’s long-buried secrets. Maisie’s benefactor, tycoon James Compton, wants to buy an estate in the bucolic hamlet of Heronsdene, but is wary after a string of mysterious fires. Maisie soon proves Compton’s suspicions correct when she encounters the shady current landowner and a vaguely menacing band of Gypsies in town for the seasonal harvest. The locals are also curiously tight-lipped about Heronsdene’s wartime tragedy, when a zeppelin raid wiped out a family. Teasing out Heronsdene’s secrets will take all the intrepid former nurse’s psychological skills and test her ability to navigate between the Gypsy and gorja (non-Gypsy) worlds. Winspear vividly evokes England between the wars, when the old order crumbled and new horizons beckoned working women like her appealing heroine. Even if a few of the plot twists prove predictable, this jaunt back to a bygone era is as satisfying as a spin in Maisie’s MG.