Monday 3 November 2014

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear has found a niche in the whodunit genre, with her psychologist/investigator, Maisie Dobbs, and an interesting between-the-wars setting. Elegy for Eddie takes Maisie back to her East End days. Some old coster monger pals of her dad's ask for Maisie's help when a friend of theirs is killed in an accident at a paper factory. Maisie is shocked to learn of Eddie's sudden death and suspicious when a number of facts suggest that Eddie may have been murdered. No surprises there.
    Eddie Pettit was a man in his forties who though considered by many to be a bit simple had a wonderful gift for handling horses. He would pick up odd jobs around the East End mostly, at a time when many businesses still used a horse and cart as their main source of transport. He'd also drop in at the paper factory to run errands.
    Maisie discovers that Eddie had been taking reading lessons with a teacher north of the river and had been seen writing in a notebook. What's more he seemed to have something on his mind. Possibly this was due to the arrival of hard man, Jimmy Merton,  at the factory, where Eddie soon became a victim of bullying, reminiscent of his time at school.
   When Maisie begins to investigate the factory, she discovers that it is owned by newspaper magnate, John Otterburn, a Canadian with a finger in many pies and the ear of influential people in Parliament. Even Douglas, the husband of Maisie's great friend Priscilla, knows Otterburn, as does Maisie's beau, James Compton. Maisie meets Otterburn socially, and makes a surprising discovery at his London house.
    It soon starts to look as if Eddie was caught up in a problem well above his capability to understand, and the story has ripples way beyond the East End. Meanwhile the papers are full of Hitler's rise to power, and the rumblings of another war can heard.
    Maisie's own life is upset by new problems as she finds herself criticised for interfering too much in the lives of her staff: side-kick, Billy Beale and her new assistant, Sandra, rescued from a previous case. I've often thought Maisie seemed a bit goody-two-shoes and am happy to see her given the chance to be more human. And her relationship with James is going through a rocky patch, highlighting how hard it is to be a career woman in 1933.
    Ellegy for Eddie is as much a bit of social history as it is a murder mystery and might disappoint those readers eager for a fast-paced whodunit. There are sometimes a few too many details about clothes, the landscape or interior decoration plus a lot of chit-chat over cups of tea. But Winspear creates a great atmosphere, with the malodorous River Thames at Lambeth contrasting nicely with Maisie's country residence at Chelstone. There's a glimpse of the struggles of working class people during the depression era, who nevertheless look out for each other, while a growing educated class of people are eager to see a few changes in the social order.
    I like the fact that the Maisie Dobbs novels aren't all the same and that Maisie has a chance to grow and change as a character as time and circumstances impact on her life. For me it's always good to drop in and catch up with Maisie to pick up where we left off with an interesting if not demanding read.

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