Day 289: Birds of a Feather

Cover for Birds of a FeatherMaisie Dobbs is a “psychologist and investigator” solving cases in post World War I London. Birds of a Feather is the second book in the series by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie’s background is unique, in that she is a former serving girl who was taken up by a mentor, educated, and trained in some unusual techniques to use in her investigations.

Maisie accepts the case of a wealthy owner of grocery stores, Joseph Waite, to find his daughter Charlotte, who is in her 30’s, and return her home. As Maisie investigates the case by locating Charlotte’s friends, they begin dying. At each crime scene, a white feather is left. White feathers were traditionally given to young men during World War I to shame them into enlisting, as they are a symbol of cowardice.

I read the first book in this series, Maisie Dobbs, and was not enthralled with it, so I only read this novel because it was chosen for my book club. I finally decided that I like the book a little, but it certainly has its flaws. Winspear is not very good at delineating Maisie’s character, I feel. Maisie also speaks surprisingly modern American English for a British woman in the 1930’s.

The biggest problem I have with Maisie, though, is that the unusual skills she has picked up to use in her investigations are far too New Agey to be convincing for a character in the 1930’s. It does not help my enjoyment of the novel, I fear, that I find many New Age ideas irritating.

In addition, it makes no sense to me at all that no one seems surprised to find the detective is a young woman. Even in P. D. James’ classic An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, written in 1972, characters express surprise to find a woman in that role. All-in-all, this makes too many anachronisms in the series to suit me.

Finally, I know this is a silly quibble, but I feel that Winspear spends too much time describing Maisie’s clothes.