We meet Maisie Dobbs as she steps out of the Warren Street tube station, a woman in a navy blue jacket and skirt, with “a way of walking, with her shoulders back and head held high”. It is 1929, ten years after the end of the Great War, but London and all of England have not recovered, indeed perhaps have never entirely recovered. For the British Empire as whole “908,371 ‘soldiers' [were] killed in action, died of wounds, died as prisoners of war and were missing in action from 4 August 1914 to 31 December 1920.” Of these 702,410 were from the British Isles while the rest were from its colonies.Ref
Even ten years later many survivors require medical and psychiatric care. They struggle to find a place in a society rocked by changes in the long-standing social order and staggered by widespread unemployment and shortages. Men who came back from the trenches cannot talk about their experiences. They carry their wounds, visible and invisible, as they try to adjust to a world that wants to forget the war.
Maisie herself walks between worlds. The daughter of a costermonger and a former maid, she nursed at the front before graduating from Girton College. As the story begins she is opening her own business as a personal investigator. Her first case, following a woman whose husband suspects that she is unfaithful to him, instead takes her to a cemetery whose war dead lead her into memories of the war and darkness set in the midst of England's green fields.
I'm grateful to have been reminded of this series. I investigated when this first book came out in 2003 and always meant to get back to it. I enjoy Maisie a lot. She's smart and practical, cool and caring. Her loyal and efficient nature has attracted lifelong friends and mentors. Even her name is perfect: Dodds reflects her humble background and Maisie is a perfect period name.
One of the things I like about this series is that Maisie's adventures force her to look into herself. Through the series we get to follow the trajectory of one woman coming to terms with the events of her tumultuous times. I like the psychological element that spices the mystery.