Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear - Fiction
Lady Rowan Compton first met Maisie when, at thirteen, she went into service as a maid at her ladyship's Belgravia mansion. A suffragette, Lady Rowan took the remarkably smart youngster under her wing and became her patron. She encouraged Maisie to study at Cambridge, and was aided in this by Maurice Blanche, a friend often retained as an investigator by the elite of Europe when discretion and results were required. It was he who first recognized Maisie's intuitive gifts.
The outbreak of war changed everything. Maisie left for France to train as a nurse, then served at the front, where she fell in love with a handsome young doctor.
After the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie hangs out her shingle: M. Dobbs, Trade and Personal Investigations. Her very first case involves suspected infidelity but turns up something else, a tombstone with only a first name--Vincent. And then she finds another. The deceased had lived on a cooperative farm called The Retreat, a well-regarded convalescent refuge for those grievously wounded in the war, ex-soldiers too shattered to resume normal life. When Lady Rowan's son makes plans to join the reclusive community, Maisie hurriedly investigates and finds a disturbing mystery at its core whose resolution gives her the courage to confront the ghost that has haunted her for ten years.
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Even if she hadn't been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well-turned ankle. She had what his old mother would have called "bearing." A way of walking, with her shoulders back and head held high, as she pulled on her black gloves while managing to hold on to a somewhat battered black document case.
"Old money," muttered Jack to himself. "Stuck-up piece of nonsense."
Jack expected the woman to pass him by, so he stamped his feet in a vain attempt to banish the sharp needles of cold creeping up through his hobnailed boots. He fanned a half dozen copies of the Daily Express over one arm, anticipating a taxi-cab screeching to a halt and a hand reaching out with the requisite coins.
"Oh, stop--may I have an Express please, love?" appealed a voice as smooth as spooned treacle.
The newspaper vendor looked up slowly, straight into eyes the color of midnight in summer, an intense shade that seemed to him to be darker than blue. She held out her money.
"O' course, miss, 'ere you are. Bit nippy this morning, innit?"
She smiled, and as she took the paper from him before turning to walk away, she replied, "Not half. It's brass monkey weather; better get yourself a nice cuppa before too long."
Jack couldn't have told you why he watched the woman walk all the way down Warren Street toward Fitzroy Square. But he did know one thing: She might have bearing, but from the familiar way she spoke to him, she certainly wasn't from old money.
At the end of Warren Street, Maisie Dobbs stopped in front of the black front door of a somewhat rundown Georgian terraced house, tucked the Daily Express under her left arm, carefully opened her document case, and took out an envelope containing a letter from her landlord and two keys. The letter instructed her to give the outside door a good shove after turning the key in the lock, to light the gas lamp at the base of the stairs carefully, to mind the top step of the first flight of stairs--which needed to be looked at--and to remember to lock her own door before leaving in the evening. The
letter also told her that Billy Beale, the caretaker, would put up her nameplate on the outside door if she liked or, it suggested, perhaps she would prefer to remain anonymous.
Maisie grinned. I need the business, she said to herself. I'm not here to remain anonymous.
Maisie suspected that Mr. Sharp, the landlord, was unlikely to live up to his name, and that he would pose questions with obvious answers each time they met. However, his directions were apt: The door did indeed need a shove, but the gas lamp, once lit, hardly dented the musky darkness of the stairwell. Clearly there were some things that needed to be changed, but all in good time. For the moment Maisie had work to do, even if she had no actual cases to work on.
Minding the top step, Maisie turned right on the landing and headed straight for the brown painted door on the left, the one with a frosted glass window and a To Let sign hanging from the doorknob. She removed the sign, put the key into the lock, opened the door, and took a deep breath before stepping into her new office. It was a single room with a gas fire, a gas lamp on each wall, and one sash window with a view of the building across the street and the rooftops beyond. There was an oak desk with a matching chair of dubious stability, and an old filing cabinet to the right of the window.
By: Jacqueline Winspear