Is there anything more controversial at Goodreads than star rating? I think not (and yes, I think it’s more controversial than porn or V-blogs). People have opinions on whether or not one should star books that weren’t finished, whether one can star unread books by authors they don’t like–or even do like–and then there are those that will actually argue a reviewer’s rating based on the reviewer’s interpretation, the infamous ‘you read it wrong’ offense.
Here I am, deciding to stretch my reading boundaries a little by giving Miss Maisie Dobbs a try: I enjoy mysteries, I love a good female lead and–hey–I’m a nurse, so why not? Well, because I am generally bored by historical fiction. But you know–stretch, right? I discovered Maisie Dobbs was both better and worse than I expected. Better, because I generally enjoyed it until the ‘worse’ part–a deep immersion into Maisie’s past from ages thirteen to twenty-ish.
Remember how I mentioned recently that there is a shortage of niceness? Not in Maisie’s world. Maisie is Little Women, Nancy Drew and the intuition of Claire DeWitt wrapped up into one self-assured bottle of plucky, industrious kindness. Maisie has a benefactor who has encouraged her to set up a little detective shop, and so she rents a room and makes friends with Billy, veteran and odd-jobsman. A man makes an appointment to ask M. Dobbs to discover if his wife is cheating on him, and much like Claire DeWitt, Maisie tells him that she may not like the answers she finds–and so he must trust her to do what’s right. Maise gets close to the wife, discovers the mystery of her visiting the grave of a recently deceased veteran, and uses her skills to ‘accidentally’ encounter the wife and forge a connection. She discovers the mystery of the veterans’ home for the disfigured, coincidentally the same place her benefactor’s son is planning to retreat to. Before too much more progress is made, we journey back to Maisie’s youth when she first encountered her benefactor.
So here’s the deal: I actually liked the absolutely tropey Maisie–intelligent, book-smart, industrious, honest, and attractive–who, much like Nancy Drew, is practically perfect as well as the apple of her daddy’s eye. I was vaguely interested in the obvious non-mystery, a home for disfigured veterans where men are mysteriously dying. The writing is decent, with solid character-building. But the transition to the past was awkward and continued for far, far too long to maintain any sense of suspense (perhaps helping the reader forget the solution?) and basically had little to do with anything except to build character background and show Maisie’s own role in the war. I almost quit; I loaned the book to my mom in the meantime, until self-flagellation led me to finishing. It remained rather boring, in an insipid, historically romantic kind of way, using one of my absolute, very least favorite excuses for a criminal behavior, and a laughable denouement (and not in a good way). There was a bonus character twist that really made little to no sense.
On my personal scale of enjoyment, it was a solid ‘meh’–I’m just not interested in historical fiction as a rule, so you have to be an ah-maz-ing writer for me to enjoy it (hello, Connie Willis!). In my world, it’s about two stars for enjoyment, veering uncomfortably close to a Did Not Finish. Yet the writing skill–if not plotting–is actually much higher. On the niceness scale, it’s a solid five, and on the Mom’s Scale, it was good enough to warrant checking out the next book from the library. I might even skim the next one, to see if Winspear learned some plotting. So there you go: unrated because of niceness.