Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

I have loved the Maisie Dobbs series since I read the first book. I was thrilled to realize I had an unread book in the series on my shelf: don’t know how I could have missed that earlier. I have heard people call the series “light” because they are mysteries, but really I think there is an incredibly depth to Winspear’s writing. She takes on topics that are weighty and in no way fluffy. She also has created an incredibly real, detailed world which is eminently believable. Winspear is not cozy mystery machine who churns out a new book every season. There is an analytical depth and research background which undermines the descriptions of a mystery as “light.”

In the latest Maisie Dobbs book, Winspear introduces Americans. The soldier who has been killed is an American cartographer who joined the War because he had unique skills and his father was British. Like all Maisie Dobbs books, the plot is more intricate than first perceived.

This book would be terribly hard to pick up without foreknowledge of the series. By the seventh book in the series, Winspear assumers her readers are up-to-date on Dobb’s friends, relationships, and past. This story brings back Maurice, her mentor who has been a foundation of the series. It also reintroduces James Compton and adds a heretofore untold back story which fleshes out the world of Maisie Dobbs. Winspear does an amazing job of combining the mystery and the personal story in a balanced way. She does not go too far astray on either side, losing track of one plotline of the other.

When all is said and done however, I didn’t like this book quite as well as others in the series. The only problem for me was the way the mystery wrapped up. There were too many moments when Maisie knew information which Winspear did not share with the reader. And the denouement was muddy. One character was “sort of” guilty, but I did not feel it was explained as well as it could have been.

Despite the shortcomings, I would wholeheartedly recommend the series. It is easy to get lost in Jacqueline Winspear’s world. And I always learn something new.

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