Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear: A review



Maisie Dobbs has been on her own as a private investigator/psychologist for about a year in this second entry in Jacqueline Winspear's well-written series. She has gained a new office, new living quarters, and an assistant, Billy Beale, and she has gained some measure of respect from the police, especially Detective Inspector Stratton of Scotland Yard.

She is contacted by a self-made, brash, and impatient businessman named Joseph Waite (An impatient businessman named Waite. Get it? Sorry, couldn't resist!) It seems that Waite's daughter, 32-year-old Charlotte, has run away from the family home and Waite wants her found and brought back immediately if not sooner.

Meantime, the police are investigating the murder of a young woman about Charlotte's age, but before the crime can be solved, another young woman is murdered in similar fashion. As Maisie proceeds in her search for the missing woman, she discovers that there may be a link between her and the murdered women. Then she learns that another woman with a connection to all three has recently committed suicide. At least, it was thought to be suicide. Maisie has her doubts.

She and Billy proceed with their investigation, but Maisie comes to realize that something is seriously wrong with Billy. His leg wound from the Great War is bothering him and he may have turned to illicit drugs to try to ease his pain. And then her beloved father is injured while caring for a horse on the estate where he lives. With all of these concerns on her plate, will Maisie be able to retain her focus on the missing person case?

Winspear manages to weave many interesting historical facts into her historical fiction. Here, we learn about the Order of the White Feather, a group of women who, during World War I, went around England handing white feathers to young men who were not in uniform. The feather was supposed to represent cowardice and it was a form of group pressure to try to get the men to enlist.

Interestingly, we also learn a bit about the inventor of Pilates exercises, which, at the beginning, were meant to help those injured in the war strengthen their bodies and learn to cope with disabilities.

Winspear also does a good job of recreating the cultural atmosphere of the times. This story takes place in 1930 when England, and much of the world, was in a depression, and hunger and want were everyday companions for so many people. Winspear's descriptions of those people seem poignant and real and lend much authenticity to this very interesting series.

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