Monday, July 16, 2007

Messenger of Truth

The fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jacqueline Winspear is a powerful story about England between the two world wars, and the power of art to "touch the truth."

I hadn't read previous Maisie Dobbs books, but I will now. Maisie was a nurse during World War I, and she suffered from shell shock, and had a breakdown. By the time of this book, in 1930, she is a psychologist and private investigator, in her early thirties, and never married.

Georgina Bassington-Hope, a wealthy young woman who made her name as a journalist during the war, consults Maisie after a referral from the college they both attended, and the approval of Scotland Yard. Georgina's brother Nick was an artist who fell to his death from a scaffolding while preparing for an exhibition. Georgina, his twin, wants to know if it was more than accidental death. For Nick had a special gift. His works haunted viewers, and some of them were not happy with what they saw.

Maisie has special skills. She "asks questions that others fail to ask and sees things that others are blind to." Her own background, losing her mother at a young age, nursing during the war, and her breakdown, have given her a sensitivity to others. She's from a working-class family, and she sympathizes with her assistant, Billy Beale, when he tells about his sister-in-law's family moving in with his family. And, she's angry when he doesn't have the money to take his children for medical treatment when they suffer from diphtheria. Maisie sees the London of the 1930s through working-class eyes. There's a need for a "war against poverty, against disease and against injustice."

Her feelings lead her to understand Nick, a "man of an artistic sensibility who had been drafted by the government to do do its dirty work, and afterward..left feeling sick about it for years." Maisie observes his family of well-to-do artists, and the one family member who seems out of place. She feels torn between their comfortable life, and the new life of an independent woman offered by the years after the war.

Messenger of Truth is a mystery. Was Nick Bassington-Hope murdered, and, if so, why? What was his brother Harry mixed up in, and why were the police interested in Harry? At the same time, it's a powerful story of post-war England, and the problems of the working class, as seen through the eyes of a thoughtful, independent woman.

Winspear's Maisie Dobbs is a fascinating woman, an intriguing character to follow in a series. Jacqueline Winspear's Messenger of Truth is a wonderful story, a thoughtful look at difficult years in the world. Just as Nick's work haunted viewers, the story and its truths will haunt the reader. Winspear tells of England's past during the war, its troubled present during the late twenties and thirties, and hints of the terrible future to come, with her foreshadowing of the next war. This is a story that will not easily be forgotten.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear. Picador, ©2006, ISBN 978-0-312-42685-9 (paperback), 322p.

Personal Note: Winspear talks about Dungeness and the story of Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. It's a story I remember fondly from, of all things, Disney, who brought the story to life in an enthralling movie. And, the opening music is wonderful, too. A google search for Dr. Syn will bring up articles about the vicar of Romney Marsh, the story, and even a site with the music.


Joy said...

I've heard nothing but good regarding this series and I'd really like to read it. However, it's just not "calling me" right now. ???

Lesa said...

I totally understand, Joy. A staff member had been raving about this series for a couple years. Now that I've read one, I'm totally hooked, but I wasn't sure from her summation that it was going to be my cup of tea.

However, the author, and Maisie, sucked me in.