Monday, February 18, 2008

An Incomplete Revenge

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries have been nominated for numerous awards, and her latest, An Incomplete Revenge, will probably follow suit. Once again, she takes readers into a part of England's history that is not well-known. Although she sets her stories in the 1930s, they have a striking relevance to today's world. There is so much meat in this mystery that it's hard to know where to start.

Maisie is still trying to find her own personality and life, after her breakdown from shell shock due to her experiences as a nurse during World War I. Since her business as a psychologist and investigator is struggling, she's taking weaving classes. Her next case will allow her to weave together various voices and stories to find the truth behind a village's secrets.

James Compton, the son of Maisie's patron, is interested in buying a brickworks in Heronsdene. However, he knows there has been vandalism and fires in the town, so he hires Maisie to investigate. Her trip to Heronsdene will be a trip into her own past, as well as the village's.

September brings three groups of people to the town, the villagers themselves, Londoners who take vacation in order to make extra money picking hops, an gypsies, the Roma, who show up to work the hops fields. Since Maisie's assistant, Billy Beale, is heading to the hops fields with his family, Maisie asks him to make arrangements to pick in Heronsdene, so she can work with him. Before Maisie even arrives in the village, Billy calls for help because two boys from London have been arrested for theft from the landowner who owns the brickworks and most of the town.

Maisie finds a village living in fear and suspicion, feelings that extend to the two groups that annually descend upon Heronsdene. Since the townspeople are unwelcoming, Maisie finds she's most welcome in the gypsy camp, where the matron, Aunt Beulah, has been waiting for Maisie. As she spends time in the camp, it brings back memories of her grandmother, a member of a tribe of water gypsies, who left the life to marry Maisie's maternal grandfather.

When a fire breaks out in the inn at which Maisie stays, she witnesses firsthand the fear and lack of trust in the village. As she probes further, she finds a trail leading directly back to a zeppelin that bombed the village in 1916.

World War I was followed by a period of depression and unrest in the world. Maisie's investigation reveals a long period of prejudice and suspicion. The animosity between groups foreshadows the rise of the Nazis in Germany, and fascists in the rest of Europe, including England. An Incomplete Revenge is relevant in our own time, during a time that Americans argue about illegal immigrants, and a presidental campaign points out prejudicial feelings between African Americans and Latinos and whites, as well as prejudice against women. We are living in a period of financial unrest, in which people are losing jobs and homes. Winspear's story of 1931 England is a warning about the suspicions and prejudice, the evil, that can destroy towns and countries.

Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge is a complicated story in which the story of Heronsdene serves as a microcosm of the world at the time. At the same time, Maisie's own history is a microcosm of England's history. Winspear has written a complex, intriguing crime novel, filled with fascinating characters, once again deserving of nomination for the various mystery awards.

Jacqueline Winspear's website is

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt and Company, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-8050-8215-9 (hardcover), 306p.


Vickie said...

Love this series. I was a bit disappointed in the first, MAISIE DOBBS, when I began reading it. It was billed as a mystery and there wasn't much of one. But I quickly got over my dismay and enjoyed the book for what it was, setting up the series and making me want to know these characters. I am keeping the books as I read them. I don't do that often with my books, but I can see myself reading these again in the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to continuing to read this series. I have an arc of this one and if I can just get the time, I'll read it one day. Great review and great analogies to our time.

Lesa said...

Vickie, I totally agree with you. I think there's enough meat in these books to discover more on rereadinig.

Thank you, Kay! I'm going to hear Cornelia Read and Jacqueline Winspear last night. I'll be interested to hear if Jacqueline makes the analogy to our time.

anne said...

I read this entire series and was enthralled with each book. I look forward to this newest addition.

Lesa said...


I don't think you'll be at all disappointed! Enjoy!