Maisie Dobbs (novel)

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Maisie Dobbs
Front cover of book showing a woman's face
Front Cover of First Edition
AuthorJacqueline Winspear
CountryUnited States
SeriesMaisie Dobbs
PublisherSoho Press
Publication date
1 July 2003
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
Audiobook E-book
Pages294(US first edition)
ISBN978-1-56947-330-6 (US)
Followed byBirds of a Feather 

Maisie Dobbs is a mystery by Jacqueline Winspear published in 2003. Set in England between 1910 and 1929, it features the title character Maisie Dobbs, a private investigator. Generally well received by critics, mostly because of Maisie's quirky character, the novel was nominated for several awards and received the 2003 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. It is the first in the Maisie Dobbs series.


Maisie becomes a maid at the Belgravia Mansion of Lady Rowan Compton in 1910 at thirteen years old, after her mother dies, and she must help her father make ends meet. Soon after getting caught in Lady Compton's library fulfilling her joy of reading and learning, Maisie is introduced to Maurice Blanche, close friend of the Comptons, and becomes his pupil. Blanche, a discreet investigator, teaches Maisie as much as he can about psychology, science, and anything else Maisie is willing to learn. When Maisie becomes old enough she attends Girton College at Cambridge University, but threats of war soon intervene. World War I intensifies, and the pressures of war can be felt in Maisie's England. Deciding that the war efforts are extremely important to her and her country, Maisie volunteers as a nurse at the front, where she meets a young man, with whom she falls in love. Part of the mystery surrounding Maisie is what happens to the young man.

After the war, Maisie apprentices with Blanche in his investigative work. In 1929, after Blanche has retired, Maisie opens her own investigation business. Her first seemingly open-and-shut case involves her in a mystery surrounding something known as The Retreat, a suspicious home for veterans of the war. Maisie must act fast when she learns that Lady Compton's own son has signed over his fortune to The Retreat and is about to take asylum there. With the help of Billy Beale, a caretaker at her office and veteran of the Great War himself, she is able to infiltrate The Retreat. As Maisie uncovers the mystery of The Retreat she is also confronted with her own ghosts from the war after ten years of holding the memories at bay.

Major themes[edit]

In an interview with Jacqueline Winspear, Andi Schechter of Library Journal points out that "World War I is a major theme" in the book.[1] Winspear notes that Maisie is "very much a woman of her time" and her interest in the lives of women in Europe during the years surrounding World War I became a backdrop for the story.[2]

Development history[edit]

Jacqueline Winspear became deeply interested in World War I and its after effects because of her grandfather, who was severely wounded and shell-shocked after serving at The Battle of Somme in 1916.[3] At first she did not set out to write a war novel, but her deep interest in history provided a framework for the character of Maisie Dobbs to develop.[4] In what she describes as "a moment of artistic grace", Winspear says the character of Maisie Dobbs developed in her mind while stuck in traffic.[5] From there, Winspear began intensely researching the Great War and 1920s England.[6] While recovering from an accident that broke her arm and crushed her shoulder, Winspear completed over half of Maisie Dobbs with just one hand on the keyboard.[7] She sent out sample chapters and proposals to thirty literary agents and received several phone calls back within a few weeks.[8] Within a few months she had signed a contract with an agent and sold the book by the next spring.[9] The book was published the following year by Soho Press, Incorporated.[10]


Maisie Dobbs was mostly well received by critics. The title character was described as strange, clever, and resourceful by New York Times Book Review crime columnist Marilyn Stasio.[11] Reviewer for School Library Journal Susan H. Woodcock characterized Maisie as a strong protagonist.[12] The book received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was called an inspired debut.[13] It was also featured as one of the 12 best mystery books of 2003 in Publishers Weekly.[14] In addition, Maisie Dobbs was chosen as one of School Library Journal's best adult books for high school students in 2003.[15]

Not everyone was impressed with Winspear's debut novel. Kirkus Reviews stated: "Winspear rarely attempts to elevate her prose past the common romance, and what might have been a journey through a strata of England between the wars is instead just simple, convenient and contrived."[16] NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan noted that the coincidences in the plot are too "wopping", but commented that the secondary characters are "winning" and Maisie herself is what truly draws readers in as "part clairvoyant, part intellectual, and part new age therapist".[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Year Result
Agatha Award, Best First Novel 2003 Winner[18]
Alex Award 2004 Among 10 winners[19]
Barry Award, Best First Mystery Novel 2004 Nominated[20]
Dilys Award 2004 Nominated[21]
Edgar Award 2004 Nominated[22]
Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel 2004 Winner[23]


  1. ^ Schechter, Andi. "Character is queen: Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs", "Library Journal" (1 April 2004). Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  2. ^ Spencer-Fleming, Julia. "Julia Interviews Jacqueline Winspear", "Julia Spencer-Fleming" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  3. ^ "Jacqueline Winspear" Archived 2011-03-11 at the Wayback Machine., Red Room Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  4. ^ "Jacqueline Winspear" Archived 2011-03-11 at the Wayback Machine., The Red Room Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  5. ^ "Interview", Book Reporter August 12, 2005, Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Book Clubs/Reading Guides (Maisie Dobbs)" "Penguin Group" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  7. ^ "Book Clubs/Reading Guides (Maisie Dobbs)" "Penguin Group" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  8. ^ "Meet the Writer-Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs Series #1)" "Barnes & Noble" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Meet the Writer-Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs Series #1)" "Barnes & Noble" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  10. ^ "Maisie Dobbs" "Soho Press" Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  11. ^ Marilyn Stasio, "Crime", The New York Times, July 20, 2003, accessed March 23, 2011.
  12. ^ Susan H. Woodcock, "Review of Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear", School Library Journal, 49, no. 12 (December 2003): 177. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  13. ^ Cannon, Peter and Jeff Zaleski. "Maisie Dobbs (Book)". Publishers Weekly 250, no. 24 (June 2003): 55. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  14. ^ "The Year in Books 2003: Mystery" Publishers Weekly, November 17, 2003, accessed April 13, 2011.
  15. ^ Susan Woodcock and Jackie Gropman, "Adult Books for High School Students", School Library Journal, December 1, 2003, accessed April 13, 2011.
  16. ^ Maisie Dobbs. Kirkus Reviews, 71, no. 10 (May 2003): 713. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  17. ^ Maureen Corrigan, "Book Review: Maisie Dobbs" NPR accessed 13 April 2011.
  18. ^ Malice Domestic Archived 2010-04-12 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  19. ^ Alex Awards Archived 2010-09-02 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  20. ^ Deadly Pleasures Archived 2012-04-23 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  21. ^ Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Archived 2010-04-12 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  22. ^ The Edgars Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  23. ^ Mystery Readers International Retrieved 13 April 2011.

External links[edit]