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Book Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

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Almost a year ago, I was introduced to Maisie Dobbs when I read Pardonable Lies.  And I mentioned at the time that it wouldn't be my last Maisie Dobbs book. So when the opportunity came for me to read and review Messenger of Truth, I jumped at it.  Maisie Dobbs is a unique character in mystery/detective fiction — she doesn't have a bumbling sidekick that she keeps having to explain everything to, she doesn't seem to fall into key clues that crack cases wide open. 

The titles of the books aren't even puns, which my wife tells me is very important in evaluating mysteries.  Maisie is a very methodical investigator whose methods are highly unorthodox, especially for 1930s England.   She works well with her assistant Billy, whom she trusts to conduct parts of the investigations by himself. 

In this installment of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, Maisie is investigating the death of a well-known artist, who apparently fell from a scaffold while preparing his latest exhibit.  There's really no evidence of any foul play, and the death is quickly labeled accidental, but the artist's sister has a "gut feeling" that something more happened.  So does Maisie.

This entire series is set in post-WWI, depression-era England.  We get some great insights into the effects of the "Great War" on the various social classes in England.  Too often we look at WWI as an honorable war; we miss the lives that were impacted, the outlooks that were totally changed.  In the US we were barely affected by the war, but in Europe almost an entire generation of young men were killed.  What the survivors saw in the war affected them years later, when more trouble started brewing in Europe. 

It's easy to look back and wonder how people could have thought that peace was possible with Hitler in power; the people in England at that time were sick of war, and wanted nothing to do with it.  One of the things I love about the Maisie Dobbs series is that we get to look at things in a totally different way – we see another perspective on what happened back then, and understand a little better why things happened the way they did.

Another thing that I love about the series is the way each case affects Masie.  We're used to reading books about Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, who finish their cases pretty much how they start – same outlook, same opinions, in pretty much the same place emotionally as they started.  Masie's cases impact her.  They change her. 

In Pardonable Lies, we see Maisie have a breakdown as a result of the case, coupled with her experiences as a nurse in WWI.  In this case, her opinions of herself change.  She begins to wonder about why she is an investigator, and she wonders about her personal priorities.  She sees a side of society that is untouched by the depression, and she sees people whose lives are forever changed by it – and is impacted by both groups.  And at the end of the book, we see Maisie ready for rebirth, and wonder what the next case, and the next book, hold for her.

And for us.  I have to admit it, I'm hooked on this series.  I'll be headed to the library to get the first two books, and I'll be waiting with bated breath for No. 5.

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