Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mystery Writers Who Inspired Me—Part 1

By Kay Kendall

Jacqueline Winspear is a marvelous author whose books have been inspiring me for more than a decade. Most of the stories in her Maisie Dobbs mystery series are set in England, and the series begins after the War to End All Wars, which is alas now called World War One. The eleventh book in the series came out this year.

Maisie Dobbs was a young nurse at the front, and her fiancé was wounded in the fighting. In the first book, he is a hopeless invalid, unable to speak and suffering from the gas attacks that occurred during the infamous trench warfare. The initial offering—simply titled Maisie Dobbs—won many prizes for first novel and wide spread praise from both reviewers and readers alike.

Author Jacqueline Winspear
What drew me into this mystery series was the depiction of the ravages of war on those who did not fight. Winspear describes long-lasting horrors that saddled a whole society after the war was won by the British and their allies, the Americans, French and Russians. Calamitous events arose from that disastrous war—the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and Hitler’s rise.

Maisie becomes a private investigator and is taught how to approach her cases from a psychological perspective by a wise, older male mentor. The first books are set in the late 1920s and then carry into  the 1930s. We readers know that Europe is crawling steadily toward another world war, and we see how Maisie adapts to changing conditions and threats. Although several young men wish to wed her, she shies away from commitment and maintains her independence steadfastly.  She helps others find happiness but doesn’t seem able to do that for herself, at least in the area of romance.

I began reading these fine, unique mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear before I began writing my own mysteries, and the more I read, the more they inspired me. I wanted to develop my own tales to show another young woman challenged by her own era’s battles—of war, politics, and changing values. It is no exaggeration to say that without reading about Maisie Dobbs, I might never have written about my own female amateur sleuth, Austin Starr.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to hear Jacqueline Winspear speak several times about the genesis of her series, how her own grandfather survived his participation in World War One and how his military service deeply affected her family. Plus, one of her grandmothers worked in a munitions arsenal during the war and was partially blinded in an explosion. To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the war, Winspear published a standalone novel last year set during the cataclysm. Her historical research is personal and impeccable.

Recently, a funny thing happened. I believed that I had read all the volumes in order and that I was totally up to date with Maisie’s doings—with the exception of the eleventh escapade. I bought it and added it to my to-be-read pile—the enormous stack at my bedside. Yet, one thing had always puzzled me. There was a jump in Winspear’s storytelling. A squabble between Maisie and her mentor was referenced, and I didn’t know what to make of it or where it came from. There was also the introduction in the middle books of a character treated as continuing but one I had not been introduced to before. I double-checked to ensure I had read all the books in order and kept on reading them.

And then last week, a sale grabbed me. The audiobook version of the third mystery, Pardonable Lies, was offered at a deep discount. Since it had been about a decade since I first read that book—or so I believed—I bought the CD and popped it into my car’s audio disc player. Imagine my surprise—no, my shock!—when the plot was new. I had never read Pardonable Lies. In it Maisie and her mentor quarrel over national security matters and she reconnects with an old friend from college. No wonder I didn’t know about those threads in Maisie’s story. I had missed them entirely.

This is delightful serendipity, stumbling upon a lost treasure that I didn’t even know I had misplaced. Now when I get into the car and face Houston’s clogged traffic, I enjoy the ride. Perhaps I will reread all the books, or listen to them in traffic.   

I heartily recommend this series to you. Find Maisie’s stories listed in order here:
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published in July. It is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audiobook debuts soon.


  1. I am so glad you agree, Marilyn. This type of mystery is not the fashion right now, but I love the series. And the one I missed, #3--Pardonable Lies--is my very favorite. Thank goodness I found it!