Leaving Everything Most Loved
Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows the truth. Saying no to yourself is far, far harder than saying yes. Most of us grant little indulgences to ourselves every day. But what happens when the small indulgences turn into big desires? What do we do when something that will change our life becomes what we most want?
In the London of 1933, female private investigators are a rare breed. Maisie Dobbs is one of the few to hold the title. Over the course of the last several years, she has worked hard to build a reputation as not just diligent and reliable but something of a miracle worker. When the case has gone cold, you turn it over to Maisie and company. She often succeeds where Scotland Yard fails. Which is why when Scotland Yard calls, wanting to share a case with Maisie, she is deeply surprised. They have often viewed her as more of a nuisance than a help. She is less surprised when she learns what the case is: A young Indian woman living in London was shot and killed on the riverfront. The police did a perfunctory investigation which resulted in a cold case. Now the young lady’s family has come to London, hoping that a bit of personal pressure will result in a renewed intensity to the inquiry. Having heard of Maisie from a mutual acquaintance, her brother is delighted to have the case turned over to her.
The crime looks disturbingly abstract on the surface. A young woman is released from her employment as a governess with no notice and no severance that will enable her to return home. She moves from the country to London to work towards both her passage home and to save for her dream – starting a school for young ladies in India. She finds employment as a maid at various places and takes lodging in a church shelter for young foreign women of excellent character. A morning walk results in her death. According to her brother, everyone that she knew loved her. He admits that she was strangely independent for a woman of her culture but she had a knack for following just enough rules to ensure her reputation was unblemished. No one should have reason to wish her harm. So is the murder the result of random prejudice or is there something beneath the surface that made this young woman a threat to someone?
As Maisie puts together a case map, she begins to be disturbed by numerous factors. Not only is the case a rather confusing mess of half-truths and forgotten memories, but her right hand man Billy seems to be struggling to do any of the investigating. She had feared for months that the wounds he had sustained in their last big case might have lead to some debilitating injuries, and the work he does on this case (as well as another case she has given him) lead her to conclude she was right. After sending Billy on a vacation with a strong admonition to rest, Maisie finds herself with two cases that need to be investigated, starting from scratch. But as she begins to wind her way through the maze of Billy’s notes and her fresh interviews with witnesses, she comes to a startling conclusion. Perhaps she is not investigating two cases at all. Perhaps the answers to one lie within the puzzle of the other.
Even as she works on her inquiries into a missing boy and a murdered woman Maisie finds herself caught up in another enigma – the rather conflicting emotions she finds herself working through. Her longtime lover James is looking for marriage. Can she possibly be the kind of wife he needs while still being who she is? He has responsibilities in Canada and will soon by leaving for those shores, but Maisie’s work is very much established in London. Closing her office means putting two dependent people out of work in an extremely difficult job market. Additionally, she finds she does have a desire to travel but it is not Canada that draws her interest, but India, a place where two of her mentors/tutors once resided. Finding the solution to all her many problem seems simply overwhelming.
And so it would be if the author had not warned us early on that she would be taking the comfortable route to the ending. A third of the way into the book we learn that, “Maurice (her mentor) had taught Maisie to trust coincidence.” He explained that, “Coincidence was the way of their world and many a case depended upon the timely entrance of that serendipitous event.” I suppose this paragraph lauding the fact that coincidence/deus ex machina often appeared in life could be taken many ways but I essentially found it the author’s way of excusing the neat rearranging of events so that not only was Maisie able to resolve two cases at once, but the rearranging of her life was handled in an equally neat and tidy way. To fans looking for the usual complex and intriguing road Maisie often takes to a resolution, this will probably be a bit of a letdown.
The bright side is that the lovely period details and moody ambiance which make these novels such a pleasure to read are still very much in evidence. Equally evident is the author’s deft skill at combining the complicated job of solving a puzzle with her insightful look into human nature. At the end of the story, you can’t help but feel that given the right conditions exactly what happened in the book could occur in real life. So clear is the author’s look into the hearts of her fellow man that you think you know all the people who are taking part in her tale. They may go by different names but the essential spirit is the same.
Maisie spent a great deal of time worrying about her personal urge to travel and wondering if she should marry James. The result is that the mystery took a back seat. Since watching Maisie figure out the crime and analyze the criminals is a large part of the fun of the series, that took some of the love out of the experience for me. I seriously missed Billy and his sharp wit and practical intelligence. It didn’t help that Maisie felt younger than she ever has before, as though she were going through some sort of midlife crisis and wanted to spend some of her inherited funds just for the heck of it. As a result, the story felt like Maisie Dobbs “lite.”
Fans of the series will want to read this entry. It may not be a favorite but it contains pertinent information about all the characters we have come to love in the last several books. New readers will want to start at the beginning of the series with Maisie Dobbs. Not only is the mystery superior in that novel, but important character building takes place throughout the series that you simply won’t want to miss.