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The small office had changed in the thirty days since Maisie had taken up occupancy. The desk had been moved and was now positioned at an angle to the broad sash window, so that from her chair Maisie could look up and out over the rooftops as she worked. A very sophisticated black telephone sat on top of the desk, at the insistence of Lady Rowan, who maintained that „No one, simply no one, can expect to do business without a telephone. It is essential, positively essential.“ As far as Maisie was concerned, what was essential was that the trilling of its authoritative ring be heard a bit more often. …
Looking again at her handwritten notes, Maisie continued rereading a draft of the report she was in the midst of preparing. The case in question was minor, but Maisie had learned the value of detailed note taking from Maurice Blanche. During her apprenticeship with him, he had been insistent that nothing was to be left to memory, no stone to remain unturned, and no small observation uncataloged. …
Maisie rubbed her neck once more, closed the folger on her desk, and strechted her arms above her head. The doorbell‘s clattering ring broke the silence.
from: Maisie Dobbs
A Sharp-Witted Woman
When Maisie was born end of the 19th century and grew up in working class environment ready to start her professional career as a housemaid, nobody would have imagined that Maisie finally would make her way through school and finish her education at a college in Cambridge. In the midstream during WWI she became a nurse and worked in field hospitals along the combat zone in France.
Now after WWI has finally come to an end, as well as her studies, she starts working for an extraordinary investigator, Maurice Blanche. After some years Maisie establishes her own PI business beginning of the 30s. Maurice has retired, nevertheless he is a lifelong mentor for her. Although a woman in this business sector is something like a revolution, Maisie forges on.
How did all this happen?
Maisie, only 13 years old, is a housemaid on lowest possible level in an aristocratic household, however, Lady Rowan, the lady of the estate, notices her interest in books and finds out that Maisie is endowed with intelligence and analytic skills. Lady Rowan fancies the feminist movement and decides to help Maisie. So opportunities open up and Maisie works hard to fulfil the challenges. To be honest: without the help and the money of Lady Rowan Maisie probably wouldn’t have succeeded.
Maurice, who teaches her beyond school and college stuff how to become a successful PI, is a close friend of Lady Rowan and well known for his excellent skills in investigation work. Maisie is a good learner and decides to specialize in the field of missing people emphasizing that she‘ll work very discrete. (Of course during the next years and decades she is involved in more and dangerous crime as well as political affairs and intelligence operations than she ever might have expected.)
Her clients are well off – always it seems. This isn‘t unsusal because a PI is expensive to hire. So there is always a deep dive into the upper middle class and lower upper class … or even more exclusive society levels. Maisie lives and works in GB dealing with lords and ladies, sirs and dames, rich factory owners, merchants … Her business focus of missing people concerns many people. She starts an investigation and encounters also people from working class background as well as she often learns about sceletons in closets.
Maisie is active after WWI, slowly approaching WWII, and all people in her cases seem to be connected to the war. Too many people died during WWI or vanished into thin air. Sometimes the cruel incidents of WWI lead to crime and even murder afterwards when trying to bury dishonourable acts of the past. You may be sure that Maisie accepts any challenge, pokes in any secret until all is back in broad daylight. Her skills of focussing on any substantial leads, often not so evident at first glance, and combining facts are extraordinary.
Of course Maisie isn’t alone. Rather soon she hires a young man, Billie, married with children and wounded in WWI, who helps whenever necessary. There is also an inspector from Scotland Yard sharing his findings especially in murder cases. Also there is her mentor Maurice always ready to discuss any case with her. The close bonds to Lady Rowan and her husband, where she once started, have not been cut so that the aristocratic couple uses their status in society to open doors for Maisie.
Maisie is happy with her professional life and she is successful. She earns her living, has her own flat, likes nice clothes and drives a cute MG. … Yes: where is the man, the friend, the lover, the husband …?
During WWI she falls in love with a surgeon and he falls in love with her. Unfortunately the field hospital has been under attack and, while Maisie survives, her lover is deeply wounded and comes back with his brain damaged in need of permanent care. Maisie pays visists to him, but he lives now in another universe.
There are other men, of course, but Maisie cannot decide to leave her life and her job, which seems to be inevitable at those days. I admit that I didn‘t read all novels, but finally she gets married and leaves her PI world. Unfortunately her husband dies soon after the marriage and she has a miscarriage. After some years abroad she returns to London and restarts her PI business. There is another lover … Let‘s hope that she finally finds her private happiness.
The background of any case is determined of WWI and all the personal losses suffered during the war, the lost generation of young men, if dead, if physically or mentally incapacitated, the economic crisis after the war. Maisie meets lost of people who are high-minded and co-operative, also however, often sad. It’s a difficult time.
It won‘t get better because WWII dawns on the horizon. Maisie gets deeply involved in intelligence operations putting her life at risk. Let‘s hope she‘ll survive WWII and restars again afterwards.
The novels deal with crime, but also reveal personal tragedies. In addition there is the fact a young woman works in a mainly male dominated field. Nowadays … it’s about 80 – 90 years ago when all of Maisie’s cases happen, so a certain fast-paced and more lively background seems not adequate. However, Maisie seems to have grown in a very modern and self-reliant woman compared to her origins and social life during these decades.