The Mapping of Love and Death
by Jacqueline Winspear

Harper Collins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-061-72766-5.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 05/17/2010

Fiction: Mystery; Fiction: Historical

This is the seventh book in the award winning Maisie Dobbs series. The series oeuvre began pre-World War I, giving the reader background on Maisie Dobbs and how she came to be an inquiry agent. Her roots as a maid in one of the "big houses" of pre-war Britain, her training in psychology and her advanced education at a time when women were not encouraged to seek out college-level work is all remarkable and riveting. She is a three-dimensional character with a presence, and the reader will learn much about life and war from her.

The year is 1932, the place, London. Maisie's mentor Maurice Blanche is quite ill, and not as available to her as he has been. On her own, with only her indomitable assistant Billy at her side, Maisie takes on a strange task. Mr. and Mrs. Clifton have arrived from the States, with the heart-felt desire to find a nurse that they believed had an affair with their son during the war. Michael Clifton was a cartographer who volunteered his services to the British when war was declared in 1914. The little-known background story of the cartographers' importance to the success of the Allies war machine is a concurrent story here; woven deftly by Winspear, the cartographer's narrative provides a backdrop to the tragedy of war and lost love.

As Miss Dobbs delves into the story, her own personal life faces some serious changes. A new attachment is on the horizon, and as the relationship unfolds, Maisie finds herself looking to her own past for answers to Michael Clifton's death. Winspear does a remarkable job of giving the reader enough information from the past books in the series to give the new reader a comfortable grasp on the world Maisie Dobbs inhabits. Therefore, reading the previous books in the series is not necessary to the enjoyment of this one, although the writing is so well-done, so strong and instinctive, that I would highly recommend the whole series.

As the plot unfolds, it becomes obvious to both Miss Dobbs and the reader that there was and is a terrible injustice perpetuated on the Clifton family. Through a series of letters between cartographer Clifton and his unknown lover, a great longing comes to Maisie to create a life and a love of her own. As a tragic and horrifying murder is exposed, the story begins to move through the past into the present, with the family history, interactions and experiences unfolding into a mélange of misunderstandings and lost opportunities. Winspear keeps all the strings in her hands at all times, and as the story comes to its denouement, readers may find themselves reluctant to turn the last few pages. So compelling and riveting is the tale that it is hard to see the end approaching! There are few authors who can carry on with a series, keeping the readers constantly engrossed and invested in the outcome. Winspear is definitely one of those, and the future of the series seems certain to unfold in remarkable and invigorating ways.

The creator of a mystery heroine who's been described as a combination of Agatha Christie's famous sleuth Hercule Poirot and Sebastian Faulks's sassy spy Charlotte Gray, Jacqueline Winspear is quickly creating intrigue in her own right as a bestselling author with a growing following. Born in Weald of Kent, England, she presently lives in Ojai California, where she also works as a creative coach. Awards: Best First Novel Agatha Award, Alex Award for Maisie Dobbs; nominated for 2004 Edgar Award. Visit her website.

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