Monday, March 16, 2009

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

15. Messenger of Truth - fourth in the Maisie Dobbs series
by Jacqueline Winspear
mystery, 2006
paperback, 319 pages
finished, 3/11/09

I've been acquainted with Maisie Dobbs for a number of years now. From my reading journal, December 2004:

This was a truly excellent book, literary in the best sense. Well written, fully developed characters, and accessible to the reader. I learned so much about the 1914-1918 war; those years just preceding the war; and 1929. Maisie is a great character. She has very humble beginnings, but is taken under the wing of an upper class woman and her friend and given an education. She walks the line between classes as we see that very line beginning to disappear.

In this wonderful series by Jacqueline Winspear, we travel with Maisie on her life journey, watching society and the world changing, just as she herself does. The nameplate on her London office reads "Psychologist and Investigator" - an interesting and very effective combination of talents. Not only does she find out whodunnit, but also, and most importantly, why. The constant in the books is the shadow of The Great War, in which Maisie was a nurse. The man she loved was injured as they stood together on a battlefield. He has been in a nursing home all the years since, alive but unaware of the people and places around him. Everyone Maisie is in contact with has been affected by the war, from her great friend Priscilla whose three brothers were all killed, to her assistant Billy Beale, to the people in the cases she takes on. The books all feature a view of the war from a different, and deeply personal angle. In Messenger of Truth, there is a shocking story told through a work of art, and the price the artist pays for his portrayal.

Maisie Dobbs has been hired by an upper class woman to look into the death of her twin brother, an artist who supposedly fell from scaffolding while preparing to hang a very large painting. The woman doesn't believe his death was accidental. In the course of the investigation, Maisie meets a vibrant, artistic family; she visits the windswept beaches of Kent; she sees Oswald Mosley at a party. In this book, as in all the others, the characters are well drawn, and the backdrop against which they live their lives is fully described so that we know what is going on politically, economically, and socially. Maisie takes her time to really study a case. We are privy to her thoughts and feelings as she approaches various situations. She has a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to physical sensations, and can actually impart warmth and security to one in need of such strength. The author gives us domestic details that tell readers how a room is set up, how the inhabitant might live in that room, and what it might tell us about the person.

The dead artist's dwelling place:

As neat as a pin, the room had been thoughtfully decorated, though Nick had clearly retained the more attractive elements of railway carriage design. The rich wooden bulkhead walls at either end had been stripped, varnished and polished to a shine, as had the floorboards underneath. Side walls had been painted in a pale cream distemper, and there were dark linen blinds against windows that faced the sea. Two leather armchairs, the sort one might find in a gentleman's club, were positioned close to a wood-burning stove set against the bulkhead to the right of the front door.

A wood-framed bed was set lengthways against the other bulkhead, the rich burgundy counterpane hanging low over the sides to mingle with a Persian carpet woven of what seemed to be every shade of red wool, from claret to vermillion, from maroon to a color that was almost burnt umber. ... Maisie thought the compact room seemed to exude warmth, something she thought was probably essential to life on this part of the coast, whatever the season.

This continues everywhere Maisie goes. We really see the landscape, the interior space, the clothing, and we feel the air and the sun.

If you go to Jacqueline Winspear's website, you may hear a four-minute piece in which the author talks about the life and times of Maisie Dobbs. In it she says: "It never ends when it ends." The effects of the Great War (and all wars) continue on and on.


  1. Ah, now I see why you think I should be reading these books. :) I have to admit that I AM intrigued. If I decide to pick up another mystery after the Mary Russell books are finished, then I will definitely start the Maisie Dobbs series.

  2. I can't think of any series that I might compare MD to besides MR. Not that they are alike, but they are both so well-written, with such care taken with the characters and the stories that we are drawn right into their worlds. If you read them, do start at the beginning. They build upon one another. And though they are classified as mysteries, they are really more fiction with a mystery element. There are so many layers of enjoyment, and the mystery is just one. Thanks for writing, Heather.

  3. Oh, Nan, I'd love to be able to send you a photo of the latest Maisie Dobbs against one of my cushions as the material is sooo like yours! I've just read the latest Maisie - Among the Mad - and you're in for a treat. I think this is her best. As someone else has said on a blog, Maisie's character just develops as each book is written. It is now 1931/1932, 13 years since the war in which Maisie was a nurse. You will really enjoy it.
    I'm also interested to see you're reading Hazel Holt! I'm proud to say that Hazel is a friend of mine. She lives in an idyllic cottage on Exmoor, and writes about the small town of Taviscombe (aka Minehead, Somerset)which is a sort of homage to Hazel's friend, the noveliest the late Barbara Pym (as Barbara Pym called one of her towns Taviscome in one of her novels.) I interviewed Hazel some years ago for a feature article and we've been friends ever since. If you've only just started on the Sheila Malory series, then you've a treat in store. They are deceptively easy reads, but very well plotted. I would always recommend reading them in chronological order as, with the Maisie novels, the characters develop.
    I have the first Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes on order and my current reading is the first Caro Peacock (aka Gillian Linscott) novel about Liberty Lane.
    Margaret Powling

  4. I'm waiting for her last book to be available in pocket so I can afford to buy it. I agree with everything you say and love the fact that you learn so much from the books, not only about the war and the period but also about London and Kent. I read the books with a map at hand.
    The translation wasn't very good though so after the first book I switch to English - but it is rare that a book doesn't lose in translation.

  5. I think I sent a comment yesterday,but it's not appeared ... I mentioned that I had the latest Maisie Dobbs and that I had photographed it against my cushion on our bed and the cushion material was almost the same as yours! I love photographing books against similar colours!
    Margaret Powling

  6. Margaret, the reason it didn't appear until now (noon - US eastern time) is that I moderate my comments, and hadn't done so till now. I loved reading about Hazel Holt. This is my third Mrs M book. I began part way through the series with Mrs Malory and No Cure For Death after reading Geranium Cat's review, loved it, and bought the first two in the series. I've now read both, and look forward to continuing the series. I love the photograph of HH in the back of No Cure For Death. And I'm so looking forward to Among the Mad. There's a bit in the back of An Incomplete Revenge to whet the reader's appetite. I envy you just beginning the Russell books. Oh, I do love them. I must look into Caro Peacock (great name!). Margaret, when I click on your name two blogs come up but there is nothing there. Do you have another one somewhere, or was that photo you took for yourself? That pillow is one of my favorites in the house!

    Em, Aren't these just the best books! I have a lot of trouble with translations. The language and the flow of the book just never seems to work in the ones I've read over the years.

  7. This series looks wonderful - I had not heard of this author previously and will have to read this series. Thanks for suggesting and giving such thoughtful background information.

  8. And thank you, Utah Grammie, for your nice words.

  9. Nan, when I wanted to leave comments on blogs I tried without much success to start with and somehow I landed with a blog but never used it (and for now, don't intend to; too busy with my own writing and other things, but I love reading others' blogs, like yours!)
    If you are referring to the photo I took of books against my cushion (which is so like yours) this is just one I took for myself; I take a lot (and I mean a lot!) of photographs - digi photography is wonderful!
    Caro Peacock is really Gillian Linscott of the Nell Bray suffragette/sleuth novels. I'm about 100 pages into the first 'Caro Peacock' novel about Liberty Lane, but whilst it's enjoyable thus far I would say I prefer Nell Bray. But I must reserve judgment until I've finished the book.
    Sunny weather here in Devon today; a walk by the sea (you'd call it the ocean, I think) this afternoon. Wonderful for blowing winter cobwebs away!
    Margaret Powling

  10. I envy your walk, Margaret. I think people say both sea and ocean. I haven't been to the ocean in far too long.

  11. Hi Nan

    That series sounds interesting. I have a large stack of books right now but these will definitely go on my TBR list.

    I noticed you have my blog on yor sidebar - I had a mix-up with domain names so I'm afraid you'll have to re-subscribe in order to get updates. Sorry about that! and thanks!

  12. Thanks, island sparrow - I've made the change. If you read the Maisie Dobbs books, you may want to start at the beginning of the series since time does move on and characters change.

  13. I have a Jacqueline Winspear book in my library, in he Crime section. Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out.

  14. Cait, you might want to begin with the first one, Maisie Dobbs. Maybe you could get the whole series for your library. :<) Great books.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.