Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review & Tour Stop: The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
7th Maisie Dobbs novel
Genre: Historical Mystery
Pages: 368
Date of Publication: Hardcover - March 2010; Paperback - February 22, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: I received a free review copy of this book as part of a TLC book tour.
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from the publisher):
August 1914. As Michael Clifton is mapping land he has just purchased in California's beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, war is declared in Europe—and duty-bound to his father's native country, the young cartographer soon sets sail for England to serve in the British army. Three years later, he is listed as missing in action.
April 1932. After Michael's remains are unearthed in France, his parents retain London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs, hoping she can find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were among their late son's belongings. It is a quest that leads Maisie back to her own bittersweet wartime love—and to the stunning discovery that Michael Clifton was murdered in his dugout. Suddenly an exposed web of intrigue and violence threatens to ensnare the dead soldier's family and even Maisie herself as she attempts to cope with the impending loss of her mentor and the unsettling awareness that she is once again falling in love.
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This is my first time diving into the world of Maisie Dobbs. Why haven't I picked up this series before?

The Mapping of Love and Death is the seventh book in the Maisie Dobbs series. At first I was a little bit disoriented by what I didn't know about Maisie because I haven't read any of the other books in the series. I still only have a basic knowledge of Maisie's past after finishing the book, but the way that Ms. Winspear incorporated Maisie's past adventures (which would be familiar to fans of the series) was just enough that I could follow along with the story without too much confusion and still want to read the series from the beginning.

What initially pulled me into this story was the prologue, which features the subject of Maisie's investigation, Michael Clifton, as he admires the land he had just purchased in the Santa Ynez Valley of California in 1914. His plans for the property focused on drilling for oil, which fascinated me because I have lived in a region of California that is known for oil production (feeling a personal connection to a story always excites me). That aspect of the story provides the background for why someone might have wanted to kill Michael, but doesn't figure prominently into the story. Michael is also a compelling character--a young man on the verge of success who joins the war effort as soon as England declares war.

What really got me addicted to the novel was Maisie Dobbs herself. She is intelligent, independent, reflective, and sensitive. The people in her life are interesting and care deeply for her, and she clearly cares deeply for them. She seemed to have a particularly close relationship with her mentor, who was in poor health, and she was struggling with the possibility that he was dying. I really liked her as a character, and that made me so much more involved and interested in her story.

The complexity and believability of the mystery is always important to me, and The Mapping of Love and Death did not disappoint. I was never quite sure of the murderer's identity and motive until Maisie finally laid it all out. The path to the truth twisted and turned with each suspect and clue in a realistic way, and I love realistic twisty paths to the truth! By the time I reached the end of the book, I was flipping the pages with excitement.

But the book wasn't just about the murder mystery; it was also about love and loss. Michael's parents were still struggling with the loss of their son, while hopeful that they could connect with the woman he had exchanged love letters with before his death. The investigation into that romance brings up memories of Maisie's own wartime romance. The theme of love and loss is further connected to Maisie through the failing health of her beloved mentor and friend, Maurice Blanche, while at the same time she is embarking on a new relationship with friend James Compton. This theme brought a lot of heart to the story that I wasn't expecting.

This was a fabulous read. I am pretty excited to have found a new mystery series to get wrapped up in. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series! The next Maisie Dobbs novel, A Lesson in Secrets, will be released in hardcover from Harper on March 22, 2011.

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