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Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
‘Leaving Everything Most Loved’: Sleuth Maisie Dobbs on a new case
Special to The Seattle Times
“Leaving Everything Most Loved”
by Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, 352 pp., $26.99
Psychology and private investigation: an unlikely combination of professions, especially for a woman in the 1930s. And yet Maisie Dobbs does both, brilliantly. Contemplative and empathetic, she has a rare ability to see through emotional barriers, gain a person’s trust and draw out information that might otherwise stay hidden.
Dobbs is the agent through which novelist Jacqueline Winspear, an Englishwoman now living in the Bay Area, pursues her fascination with the decades between the world wars. Winspear’s most recent example is “Leaving Everything Most Loved,” her 10th book in the series.
It’s 1933 and England is changing dramatically, with the heartbreak of the first war still fresh and the threat of another on the horizon.
One major change concerns the roles women are taking on. The first war made it necessary for them to assume traditional male jobs, which many have kept. And women are increasingly forgoing marriage as well — in part because so many men have died in battle or were so damaged mentally or physically that family life seems impossible.
Maisie Dobbs is one of these newly assertive women. Born into modest circumstances, the Londoner has thrived in her dual professions of psychologist and detective. Native smarts, hard work and the guidance of her mentor, a gifted doctor and detective named Maurice Blanche — all have enhanced her career.
As the book opens, a young Indian woman named Usha Pramal has been murdered. Some years before she had left her native India for London, where, despite her education and intelligence, she had worked as a menial housekeeper, saving money to return home.
Who killed this woman, treasured by all who knew her for her luminous and lighthearted spirit?
Usha’s brother comes to England, desperate to find the murderer, and hires Maisie when the police investigation fails. She soon finds clues that link the case to one that her assistant, plain-spoken Billy Beale, is pursuing.
As always in this series, the book explores a serious social issue, in this case the deep-seated prejudice some Britons had (and still have) against natives of India and other former colonies.
Maisie may have a gift for seeing into people’s hearts, but she’s less clearheaded when it comes to her own life. She lost her first love in the war, but has found another in the form of an aristocratic industrialist, James Compton. The two more or less live together — a scandalous arrangement! — and Compton regularly asks her to marry him.
But Dobbs stubbornly refuses to commit. She dreads giving up her independence and is still working through lingering wartime emotions.
Tied in with romance is another crucial aspect of Dobbs’ personal life: a slow awareness of her desire to leave London. She finds herself yearning to travel, explore the world and assess her future.
This growing realization gives the book’s title a double significance. The murdered woman left loved ones behind in India, and Dobbs now contemplates leaving everything she loves — at least for a while. The result, once the murder is solved, marks a pivotal moment in Maisie’s life and provides a tantalizing hint of the future.
Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of month in The Seattle Times.