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Book Author: Jacqueline Winspear

THE MAPPING OF LOVE AND DEATH by Jacqueline Winspear: Book Review

The Great War has been over for fourteen years when this novel opens, but the body of one of its dead soldiers has just been recovered.

Maisie Dobbs, the heroine of The Mapping of Love and Death, was a nurse during the war. After her return to civilian life she became what the British called an “enquiry agent,” their term for a private investigator.  In the first book of the series, Maisie Dobbs, it’s 1929; in the seventh novel, it’s 1932, and Maisie has become a successful businesswoman and sometime consultant to Scotland Yard.

Maisie returns home from the war whole in body, but her emotions and her spirit are badly damaged by the sights she has seen and by the injuries to Simon Lynch, the man she loves, who returned home shellshocked and in a nursing home.

In The Mapping of Love and Death, Maisie receives a letter from an American friend, a physician whom she met during their service in the war, alerting her that an American couple will be contacting her regarding their search for the girlfriend of their late son.  The Cliftons are a very wealthy Boston family whose younger son, Michael, enlisted in the British army at the outset of the Great War, bringing his special talents as a cartographer to the Allies.

Although the parents were informed in 1916 that Michael had been killed, his body has just been discovered in France. Along with his body there were letters written to a woman he apparently was in love with, but there’s no name or address with these letters.  The parents want Maisie to find this woman and perhaps shed some light on the last two years of their son’s life.

Jacqueline Winspear has built a wonderful stage for the Maisie Dobbs’ novels.  The books give a picture of life in England after the war–the difficult economic times, the privations, the soldiers returning wounded in body and/or mind.

Since this is the seventh novel in the series, there’s a great deal of back story that goes with Maisie.  Born into a rural servant family, she is “taken up” by the wealthy Lord and Lady Compton who early on recognize her intelligence and abilities.  She’s had privileges far beyond others in her social class, including an education at Girton, the women’s college at Cambridge.  But given the strict British social class system, Maisie can never be part of the upper class and yet obviously isn’t typical of the working class either.  She’s neither fish nor fowl.

There are numerous recurring characters in the series, and although they are well described and their backgrounds given, I will repeat what I always say–try to read this series from the beginning. Every novel builds on the ones before, and the characters’ lives are so richly drawn that one should get to know them from the start.  There’s Daisy’s father, Frankie, who is in charge of the Comptons’ stables; Priscilla Partridge, a friend from the war, now a society matron with a wounded husband and three sons; Lord and Lady Compton, through whose largesse Maisie was able to further her education; Billy Beale, her office assistant; and most importantly, Dr. Maurice Blanche, who took Maisie under his wing and made her his assistant.  Each one plays an important part in Maisie’s life.

For an insightful look into the mores and times of post-World War I England and an introduction to a strong and interesting heroine, one cannot do better than the Maisie Dobbs series.

You can read more about Jacqueline Winspear at her web site.