Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

2019 Limelight Reviews
Mystery and Crime

Maisie Dobbs is not your usual private investigator. She sees her role as much broader than that: “…for Maisie, the case notes would not be filed away until those whose lives were touched by her investigation had reached a certain peace with her findings, with themselves, and with one another – as far as that might be possible.”

This is the second instalment in the Maisie Dobbs series, set in post-war London. It is 1930 and Maisie is instructed by Joseph Waite, a wealthy self-made man, to find his missing daughter, who appears to have run away from home (not for the first time). As Charlotte is in her early 30s, there is obviously more to this case than meets the eye!

One of the intriguing elements of this series is the all pervading sense of loss and sadness that is evident in England. It appears that no-one was left untouched by the war. By way of Maisie checking the time on her silver nurse’s watch, Winspear cleverly refers to Maisie’s time as a nurse during the Great War. (I highly recommend reading the first book in this series to understand Maisie’s history.) When Maisie visits Joseph Waite’s International Stores she is moved by the mosaic list of employees lost in the Great War – at least one hundred.

“A shared grief often seemed to linger in the air, perhaps borne on a soft breeze carrying the name of one who was lost heard in conversation or remembered at a gathering, and the realisation that one or two of that group were gone, their laughter never to be heard again. It was as if the sorrow of every single man and woman who had lived with the fear or reality of losing a loved one to war had formed an abyss to be negotiated anew every day.”

The Maisie Dobbs series brings to mind The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Similar to Alexander McCall Smith’s series, Maisie Dobbs is less about the mystery/crime and more about the characters and what lies below the surface.  Maisie learnt her craft from Dr Maurice Blanche whose methods are anything but orthodox: “Maisie’s work with Maurice Blanche had taught her that a person speaks not only with the voice but with those objects she chooses to surround herself.” Maisie practices meditation and finds answers in quite contemplation.

She was taught by Blanche “that coincidence is a messenger sent by truth.” It is through this open mindedness that Maisie is able to help her assistant, Billy Beale, find relief for his war-time injuries through revolutionary exercises and movements devised by a man named Joseph Pilates!

Maisie’s personal mantra is: “May I not sit in judgment. May my decisions be for the good of all concerned. May my work bring peace.” I think this is a mantra well worth embracing.

Find Birds of a Feather in the SMSA Library Catalogue.

Review by Gaby Meares
Murder on a Monday Reading Group