“Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions…as soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing.” (Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear)
Maisie Dobbs is not your average mystery. Winspear spends much more time exploring the nature of Masie’s character, upbringing, and fascinating education than she does on anything as banal as murder. The book feels like more of a psychological exploration or war memoir or even a tragic love story than its ostensible genre. Instead of being fast-paced and triumphant, as most mysteries are, Maisie’s story is slow and sad, and riddled with flashbacks and pensive silences.
Reflecting on the diverse appeal of Maisie makes me wonder if letting her languish on the mystery genre shelves isn’t an insult. The only people who would look for her there would be traditional mystery lovers, who may think the book too slow, while fans of literature and historical fiction might never get to that far-off shelf. Labeling a book as a traditional genre such as ‘mystery’ ‘romance’ or ‘sci-fi’ doesn’t fit the way people write or read today. Most new books, unless they are traditionally formulaic, mash elements of several genres (much to the benefit of the reader). So why do libraries and bookstores still divide by genre? There are probably a few practical answers to that question, but I am personally waiting for the day when we can mash all the books together and people can find their favored genres (if they still have them) by augmented reality or some other cool computer tech, while the rest of us can browse, happily unhampered by someone else’s label of our next book.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 249 pgs.
Audiobook Quality: excellent
Ending: Sad but cathartic
Further Reading: I read about this on a list of recommended read-alikes to Downton Abbey, which also included Below Stairs by Powell and other post-WWI titles.