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Book Review: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

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An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth book in the Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries. The books are set in post-WWI England, as the country hurtles toward another conflict in mainland Europe. Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist/investigator , which would at first call to mind one Sherlock Holmes. But Maisie's talents aren't the purely rational ones that Holmes used. Maisie works through intuition, and (some would say) a bit of psychic ability that lies just below the surface.

The Depression is in full swing, and Maisie is struggling to keep her business going when she's offered a case by James Compton, the son of her biggest patron, the Lady Rowan Compton. It's a simple assignment — investigate a piece of property that Compton is considering purchasing that has been the target of some vandalism recently. But it's never a simple case when Maisie Dobbs is involved. Mysterious fires, a WWI dirigible attack that scars a village, and a band of gypsies conspire to make the case much more than it would seem.

Winspear seems more intent in this book to hit on a certain theme: the idea of persecution, especially of people who are different ethnically. Three different plot threads wind throughout the book — the main case for James Compton, the death of Maisie's one-time love Simon, and the struggle of Beattie Drummond to succeed in the newspaper business in spite of a "glass ceiling" that keeps her from realizing her full potential. All touch on the unfairness of various prejudices. Even a side-plot involving Maisie's friend Georgina and her sons touches on discrimination and intolerance of people who are different.

A lesser author would have mangled the job. The book would have turned preachy rather quickly, and turned many people (myself included) off. But Winspear manages to weave this theme into the book without beating the reader over the head with it; in fact, I didn't really notice the number of times the theme appeared in the book until I finished it, and began thinking about the book in preparation for writing this review.

Maisie began a maturation process in the last book, Messenger of Truth, by confronting the demons that still haunted her from the war. In An Incomplete Revenge, she buries one element of her past in the person of Simon Lynch. That's not really a spoiler — Simon's been dieing for five books now, and his presence has influenced Maisie all the way along. Her interaction with Simon's mother, and her realization that she would not have been Mrs. Simon Lynch after the war, both serve to help her grow. Her interactions with a band of gypsies, and the revelation of her own gypsy blood, expand the character.

We are learning more and more about Maisie Dobbs with each book, which is much better than learning everything about a character in the very first book of a series. Winspear continues to grow Maisie Dobbs, letting us see her warts and all, and that is the epitome of proper characterization.

There are questions left unanswered, which only makes me eager for book six. An Incomplete Revenge was a satisfying read, and is highly recommended. It's official: I'm a fan. The book is due out in February, so reserve yours at Amazon now.

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