My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's been quite a while since I checked in on Maisie Dobbs. Time to remedy that.
An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth entry in Jacqueline Winspear's series of mysteries featuring psychologist/private investigator Dobbs, a former military nurse during World War I who is forever scarred, both physically and emotionally, by that experience.
The time is 1931. The world has moved on from the conflagration of war and the chaos of the immediate post-war period, but a new shadow is cast by economic uncertainty. Maisie is worried about the survival of her struggling private investigation business in such times.
In the midst of such worries, she receives a seemingly straightforward assignment from an old friend to investigate the situation in a small rural community where there is an estate that he is considering purchasing. There is a worrisome pattern of petty crimes and fires in the area and Maisie's client wants to know the origin of these incidents and if they are in any way related to the land he wishes to purchase.
Maisie's inquiries take her to a village in Kent, in an area that grows hops. During the hop-picking season - which happens during the time of this investigation - day laborers descend on the area from many quarters to gather the hops. Among them are Maisie's assistant and his family, who spend their "vacation" hop-picking, along with many others from London, or the "Smoke" as they refer to it.
Also present to help with the hop-picking, and even less welcome than the Londoners with the local villagers, are a tribe of gypsies. Upon arriving in the village, Maisie immediately senses the hostility of the villagers toward outsiders and she wonders at the source of it. She soon learns of the tragic history of the village which included a Zeppelin raid during the war and the legacy of events surrounding that raid.
There is a peculiar secrecy that hangs over this picturesque village and Maisie becomes convinced that it is related to the incidents that she has been sent to investigate. But with no one really willing to talk freely to her, how will she ever connect the dots and figure out what is going on? Well, that, of course, is where her finely honed detection skills as well as her knowledge of human psychology come into play. With a mixture of shrewd questions and keen observations, Maisie Dobbs always gets to the bottom of things and gives satisfaction to her clients.
Jacqueline Winspear is meticulous about setting the stage for these mysteries. She pays great attention to historical detail and that is one of the strengths of her writing. Her characterizations tend to get a bit syrupy and facile at times which can be annoying, but, overall, the characters are sympathetic and one wishes them well. It will be interesting to see just where she takes this series as she heads into the 1930s.
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