Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Mapping of Love and Death (Book Review)

The Mapping of Love and Death

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear (2010) is the 7th book in her series about private investigator Maisie Dobbs, set in London between the two great World Wars.

The first book (Maisie Dobbs) won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel 2003.

The main character Maisie began her working life at the age of thirteen as a servant, and later came to serve as a nurse in the first World War. Years later, in 1929, having apprenticed to Dr Maurice Blanche, revered for his work with Scotland Yard, Maisie sets up her own business as a private investigator. Her assistant Billy Beale has working class background and served as a soldier in the war. Maisie’s former employers Lady Rowan and Lord Julian Compton are her supporters and sponsors of her education and provide the link to the upper class society.

I read the first book in 2006, and on average I’ve been reading about one per year since then - while the author has also continued to publish one per year, which means I am still a few books behind!

While the books are well written, and I assume a lot of research has gone into background details, I find them a bit… gloomy, and slow-paced… with more focus on thinking than on action. As the series continues there is quite a lot of repetition of background (for the benefit of those who did not read all the previous books). The War keeps hovering in the background, and Maise as a literary character still also seems to be keeping a certain emotional distance - even from the reader. At the same time I find the period of time interesting and from that aspect I find the books adding to the general picture.

As with any book which is part of a series with an ongoing background story, I find it hard to give a detailed review, as it may reveal too much to readers who have not read the others.

The short intro to The Mapping of Love and Death on the author’s website reads:

Maisie Dobbs is hired to find the woman who wrote a series of love letters to a dead young soldier while grappling with her own memories of wartime romance…

The “mapping” in the title refers to the fact that the soldier in question was a cartographer; which means there are quite a few references to cartography and its use in the first world war. This, in itself, I found interesting (learning a little bit about something I never really thought about before).

Weighing in both main plot and background story… I think I’ll stop at 3 stars. (Maybe 3½…)

11 comments:

  1. With what you have to say about this book, my question is why do you keep reading them? Life is too short...spend it reading what you love!! Something that excites, mystifies, uplifts, or informs you.

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    1. Oops, did my review come off all that negative? It was interesting and mystifying enough for me to finish reading it, ponder about a rating and write a review... If I thought it a total waste of time, I wouldn't have.

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    2. I think we all get hooked into series that aren't brilliant but at the same time are worth continuing. I know I do. Then sometimes the will to carry on runs out while with others we continue to the end.

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    3. I think most series of this kind - trying to seriously juggle both a separate mystery/crime plot for each novel AND a plausible development in the background story - tend to run into trouble sooner or later. While in some ways it's convenient to have the same background characters, sometimes these seem to create a life of their own and "take over". Even to the point of the almighty author finding it the most convenient solution to kill them off to get rid of them. (To think of a famous classic example, Conan Doyle even tried that with Sherlock Holmes. But had to give in to his fans and resurrect him...)

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    4. PS. Don't worry. Maise is still alive.

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  2. i like the fact that when i read fiction, i still learn things on subjects that require the author to find the facts for me. it also put things in my head like this did you, and i can research them myself. things i never thought about or heard of

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    1. Yes, I think we learn a lot from fiction, whether it is from another time or another part of the world. Even when we don't agree we learn a bit about how other people think. My reading mood varies, sometimes I just want nice and cosy, but at other times I'm up for more of a challenge.

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    2. I couldn't agree more about learning from well-written fiction.

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  3. Oh how fun, you and I are at the same point in this series; well, this is the next one for me to read. I am reading them in order too, and quite like Maisie and her mentor and how she deals with mysteries.

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    1. Well well, what d'ya know. Perhaps for the best then that I held back on revealing too much about developments in the background story :) I can perhaps add that I do intend to read the next one as well but I'll probably read a few other books in between.

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  4. I read the first book in this series, but didn't like it well enough to continue the series.

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