Review: Elegy for Eddie

Sunday, January 20, 2013

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Early 1933. To the costermongers of Convent Garden - sellers of fruits and vegetables on London's streets - Eddie Pettitt was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. So who would want to kill him - and why? 

It's been some time since I reviewed a book in the Maisie Dobbs series here. It was almost a year ago that I first wrote about my love for the initial books in the series - "Maisie Dobbs," "Birds of a Feather" and "Pardonable Lies." Then my reviews tapered off - partly due to my busy schedule while reading some of the middle books in the series but by the time I reached "Among the Mad" and "A Lesson in Secrets," I was less than enthusiastic about reviewing these books. 

I found myself wondering why I enjoyed them - the mysteries are often thin, with very few twists and turns. Winspear has tended to resort to familiar tropes rather than fresh characterization - the much-beleaguered Billy, Maisie's assistant and Priscilla, her flustered best friend. You can count upon Maisie to be bossy to those around her, for the detectives at Scotland Yard to be staggeringly dense and always getting in Maisie's way - and everyone drinks a lot of tea! I suppose I keep coming back for those quiet moments that show what life was like in London between the wars. I love the slow but steady development of Maisie's character and the fact that she doesn't always do what's likable or right or even makes sense. She feels like a real person, living a life at a real pace. She struggles with her relationships and she tries to do what's right but like most of us finds a way to bungle even that. 

Fortunately, "Elegy" is a return to these main themes. This ninth entry in the series finds Maisie returning to the streets of Lambeth, her childhood home to solve the unexplained death of an old neighbor. I've always enjoyed the way Winspear has set up Maisie to straddle two worlds - the working class and the posh upper-class - and the things she observes along the way. That element works particularly well in this case. I also enjoyed her self-reflection and her doubts about her partner, James Compton. I almost find myself skipping over the "investigation" parts of the novel to get to the "good" parts about Maisie's life and the growing threat posed by Germany's Chancellor and the ways the English chose to perceive that threat - or ignore it. 

For those unfamiliar with the Maisie series, I would strongly recommend going back to the beginning of the series and starting there. While Winspear manages to weave in back story, I now think these books are best enjoyed as one long saga of a woman's life in Britain during WWI and beyond. The mysteries are somewhat incidental while the growth and development of the main character are the primary reason to keep returning.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 

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