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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

British Lit

I am wholly addicted to "Words with Friends", an online game by Zynga that is very similar to Scrabble© except that it has a different value square configuration, lower scoring, and more tiles in play that the regular board game. One of the nifty features of WWF, which I play on my e-reader with five or six friends from all over the country—ten or fifteen games are concurrently being played at any given time—is the online chat. You can "talk" back and forth with your, hopefully, friendly opponents as you play.

On Sunday, during one game, a friend in Maine, who is as avid a player as I am, happened to “chat” that she was on a reading binge. When I asked "What?" the texted reply came back, "The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. I am on book two". Hmmmm, I thought. The title and author's name sounded rather intriguing. And so, between games, always looking for a new author and good book to read, I searched for "Winspear" in my e-reader supplier's store and, sure enough, there she was with a listing of the nine Maisie Dobbs mystery series novels.

The synopsis of the first book, obviously titled Maisie Dobbs, told of the main character who, in the ten or so years after the end of World War I—"the  war to end all wars"—raised herself by virtue of her "remarkable intelligence" from lowly scullery maid to being a moderately successful detective. M. DOBBS, the brass plaque on the entrance to her one-room office reads, TRADE AND PROFESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS.

This seemed to me to smack of both Downton Abbey, the most recent BBC Masterpiece Theatre offering set in England between 1912 and the end of World War II, and Upstairs, Downstairs, the 1980s long-running BBC series also set in London in the early part of the last century. Since I absolutely loved the first—having watched it three times—and am currently watching streamed episodes of the second for the fourth time, I was compelled to at least download the first fifty-six sample pages of Winspear's first book, just to see if the read and the characters were as equally compelling and intriguing as that of the two BBC-TV stories.

And so, they were. Instantly charmed, I immediately bought the full e-reader version of the book which was first published in 2003 in hardcover by Soho Press, New York, NY—why didn't I discover Maisie back then, before now? For the past two days, alternating between WWF games, daily household chores, spurts of cranking out my own novel, and very brief FrankieB walks in the slowly waning evening heat, I've been immersed in the world of Maisie Dobbs, a staunchly liberated lady of her times. My kind of woman.

Here is a protagonist that, for sure, I would like to have the chance to meet in real life. She is a bright, pragmatic, astute purveyor of her chosen art of detective sleuthing—this modern era's mystery genre's counterpart to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. But, unlike Holmes, I find Dobbs much more intriguing, with much more of a well-rounded personality. And Winspear, or so it seems from only reading the first part of this, her first book in the series, is much less predictably formulaic than Doyle. Maisie's cases seem to be, in my mind, much more intricate and less predictable than Sherlock's. There is, if you will, more afoot and less elementary, my dear reader, about Dobbs.

According to her website at http://jacquelinewinspear.com Winspear did not start out as a prolific mystery writer. Born in Kent, England, she first worked in academic publishing, in higher education, and in marketing communications in the UK before immigrating to the United States in 1990. While working in business and as a personal/professional coach, Jacqueline finally embarked upon a life-long dream to be a writer. She has since, along with creating her novels, been a regular contributor to journals covering international education, has published articles in women's magazines, and has recorded her essays for KQED radio in San Francisco, where she resides. What prompted her to write about the adventures and investigations of Maisie Dobbs was two-fold: her deep interest in WWI when her grandfather was severely wounded and shell-shocked at The Battle of the Somme in 1916, and the haunting image of a tall woman with "bearing" wearing a 1920s-styled long navy blue woolen skirt and coat. Hence, the "birth" of Maisie Dobbs, "very much a woman of her generation…com[ing] of age at a time when women took on the toil of men and claimed independence that was difficult to relinquish."

Winspear has a very distinctive writing style. One in which her words are bright, crisp, and, with a modicum of flowery descriptive phrases, succinctly depict the scenes in which the relatively fast-paced action of her novel takes place. It is almost as if she has taken a panoramic photograph and has described it in far less than the proverbial thousand words. The images of Maisie and her surroundings are focused and clear, leaving little ambiguity to the reader's imagination. The characters, as well, seen mostly through Maisie's eyes as told in the third-person—a unique and compelling style that only the most gifted writers can pull off—have depth, and, well, character. Each of them, like Maisie, has that very real spark of humanity that has them almost rising up out of the pages. They are not just adjuncts to Maisie's story, but are the major bits and pieces, parts and parcels of all that which makes up this intriguing first tale.

Here is a series that literally arrived on my "doorstep", if you will, through the virtual portals of a friend's mutual love of the games we play with words and the reading of the wonderful works that writers weave with them. My friend's suggestion came at time when I am about to quickly finish up the last four books of the Elm Creek Quilts series and am/was looking for a series to read as equally and as enjoyably mesmerizingly "cool" to carry me, between my own writing and game-playing adventures, through the long, last half of this hellishly hot summer. I am sure the nine Maisie Dobbs mystery novels by Jacqueline Winspear will prove to be just what I am looking for.

And there is no mystery in that.
11:50 am edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,