Thursday, April 17, 2008

Maisie Dobbs: Robot Detective

So this--Pardonable Lies--is the third Maisie Dobbs novel, and the third that I've read. I felt the first one dragged a bit, and that the second one was a lot better. They are meandering stories, full of character studies and lessons about trusting your instincts and meditating; I find that, with detective novels, especially, you have to get used to whatever your author is doing with the pacing before you can really dig in. Is it character-driven, and more about the detective than the case? Is it action packed, unrelenting adventure? Or maybe it's more about the mystery itself and the characters involved, with the detective just your reliable anchor of a narrator guiding you through the labyrinth of diabolical doings?

Maisie is the former--these books are about her detecting style, and the atmosphere of post-WWI London. I'm not against this; in fact, I'm really enjoying the setting, and how, ten years after the war, everyone's life is still touched by it, everyone's story is deeply affected by where they were, what they did, who they lost. This aspect is really poignant, well-researched, and lovely.

But Maisie herself needs to climb off her high horse. Seriously, the girl is an ice queen. On one hand, it does follow from her life--she was a parlormaid who, through brains and sponsorship, became a "psychologist and detective;" she was a war nurse who lost her love, she was a scholarship student at a women's college before 1920. These are things that are not easy to do, and that will cast a spirit of iron. But she is as cold a fish as ever I've seen. She has a beau, and she likes him a lot (as do I), but she is always thinking about her work when they're together and hopes like heck that he won't propose. Why? I'm not sure. Because she's so busy being a detective. Which is great, but if she's supposed to be such a student of they human psyche, shouldn't she learn a lesson about actually relaxing when you're away for the weekend? Balance?

Even before she had a business, when she was in love with Simon during the war, she didn't want to accept his proposal, because she "knew" something awful would happen. This is a good point--she was afraid to lose him to the war--but you don't feel her love, just her hesitation. Also, she doesn't do humor. She smiles and is pleasant, but she's never laughed that I can recall, or bantered, or even enjoyed someone's bantering without bringing them swiftly back around to the topic at hand.

I'd blame it on the author, but other characters are warm and affectionate. I'd say it was a plot point, but it's been three books now, and it's not really getting much better. I think it might be an examination of the ultimate reserved woman. And I suppose it's doing that very well. But I'm starting to side with Dr. Dene (her gentleman friend)--I feel the rejection on his behalf. And I'm half hoping he'll find a lovely, bright young thing to settle down with.

Prove me wrong, Maisie! Prove me wrong.

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