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15th January
written by Steph
this novel is not very good!

Let me be your messenger of truth: this novel is not very good!

Splat. That pretty much sums up Messenger of Truth, the fourth entry in the Maisie Dobbs series. Normally these books are innocuous comfort reads that are pretty much guaranteed to satisfy me, and are a pretty safe bet if I’m not sure what I really want to read next. Not so this time. Messenger of Truth sees Maisie called on to investigate the death of artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope, who by the looks of it, plummeted off of his scaffolding in what the police have concluded was an unfortunate accident. As is par for the Maisie Dobbs course, along the way she winds up with a few intertwined mysteries (this time involving coastline smugglers) on her hands, but in the end she cracks all of the cases. I don’t know what it was about this novel, but I found it really hard to read because the story just didn’t grab me this time. I didn’t really care how things turned out this time, and even though art deaths sound all sexy and intrepid, I was seriously bored. At one point I almost considered just skimming to the end or seeing if this book was written about on Wikipedia to find out what had happened, because I was that uninterested. Then again, part of the thing about series is that the continuity that flows from one book to the next is rarely due to the outcome of cases, but rather what happens to the recurring characters throughout the novel. So I stuck with it, but if it hadn’t been part of a series I was already enjoying, I would have likely stopped. So unless you’re already a fan of this series, you might want to steer clear of this one. Because seriously: Snoozefest 2009. That’s not entirely true, I suppose. Sometimes I was so frustrated by the character of Maisie that it would have been pretty difficult to sleep. In recent novels, I’ve been finding Maisie’s primness extraordinarily grating. She’s sort of moved from a level-headed, mature woman, to this cold-hearted, puritanical harpy killjoy. She’s just so severe, which really plays against this whole “intuitive” gift she’s supposed to have. I think this is the case of the author telling you one thing (“Maisie is so empathetic and very emotionally astute”) but shows you something entirely opposite to this. I mean, I understand that Maisie has burdens and is gunshy about getting involved romantically with people (because she’s so driven and career-minded), but why does she have to be so sour? If this were how she had been written in the first novel, I can assure you that I would not have continued reading the books. Maybe she’s so austere because she hasn’t had a boyfriend in ages and just really needs to get laid? I mean, she’s so great at reading other people, and yet she is incapable of turning the mirror onto herself and seeing that she’s pretty flawed herself. From a non-character standpoint, I found this novel pretty disappointing in other ways too. Namely, I found the mystery portion really poor as well, and not just because it was less than enthralling. Specifically, I don’t like Winspear’s technique of bringing the reader along with Maisie on investigations, only to withhold vital information until the end of the novel when the culprit is revealed. What I mean is, it is bad mystery writing to mention that Maisie sees a mural in the dead artist’s abode and recognizes two out of the three faces on it, BUT not reveal who those faces are. Anything can be a mystery if you leave out crucial details, but since we’re tracking the case along with Maisie, it would be nice if the information that she is privy to we also get to know, especially since we are often apprised of her innermost thoughts and feelings. This flaw was glaring in Messenger of Truth, because Winspear pretty much ends one chapter (about five before the whole thing is wrapped up) by saying that it was evident Maisie had pretty much solved the case. And let’s be clear, when Maisie finally frames the killer and lures him (or her!) forth, it is never revealed how exactly she figured out who had done the deed. It was just really unsatisfying and incredibly frustrating. At least let us know what grand leaps in logic were required to crack this walnut. In the end, not our lady detective’s finest outing. I hope the next book in the series does not continue on in this vein, because I won’t continue reading books about such a prickly person (who seemingly can do no wrong) who solves yawntastic mysteries. This was a pretty big stumble for Winspear, but hopefully she turns it around in the next one. Rating: 2 out of 5


  1. 01/15/2009

    I agree with you–poor Maisie really does need to get laid. I think that the next installment is better than this one, though not as good as my favorite so far, “Pardonable Lies”. I hope you’re more satisfied next time.

  2. Eva

    lol; I read the first one and just found it ‘meh,’ so I’ve had no real desire to read the rest of the series. I think this is the first review of one of the books I’ve seen that’s less than super-enthusiastic, so it makes me feel better. 🙂

  3. 03/23/2009

    Having just finished Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, do you think her mystery writer Alex Blake is spoofing this series? I’ve never read any Maisie Dobbs, but it sounds exactly the same!

  4. 03/23/2009

    I’ve only read Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, so I’m not familiar with the Alex Blake character… it’s possible she could be spoofing it, but also since Maisie is kind of an amalgam of various Agatha Christie sleuths, she may just be poking fun at those!

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