Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death/An Irish Country Village

My husband has complained that I haven't thanked him on my blog yet for bringing me some lovely ARCs from work, including this copy of Jacqueline Winspear's "The Mapping of Love and Death" her latest Maisie Dobbs mystery.
So, thank you, my beloved, for keeping me supplied with my favorite addiction, books. And happy 13th anniversary of our wedding on October 5, 1997 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle!
The Mapping of Love and Death is the 7th Maisie Dobbs mystery, set in post WW1 England, and following the progress of a young woman who worked as a maid for a member of the gentry, and when she was discovered reading in the mansion library, was sent to college by these wealthy folk (to Girton), then tutored by a retired gentleman spy (or whatever they call the members of the British version of the CIA) and then turned loose to found her own private detective agency.
But Maisie is not Sherlock Holmes, she's been shell-shocked during her turn as a nurse on the battlefields of Europe, and she has watched the man she loved die from injuries sustained during the war. Maisie's got the advantage of having a gypsy grandmother who endowed her with something of a 'sixth sense' about feelings and things that might happen, but she mainly relies on her intellect and her friend and colleague Billy, who was a sapper during the war, to solve her cases.
The Mapping of Love and Death finds Maisie out to solve the mystery of what happened to a young American cartographer/surveyor whose bones were discovered 15 years after the war, along with letters he wrote to a mysterious nurse with whom he fell in love. Add to this the wealthy parents, one of whom is an English ex-patriot, and the illness and death of Maurice, the aforementioned gentleman spy and Maisie's mentor, and you have a book filled with emotional, poignant moments.
One of the things I like best about Maisie Dobbs mysteries is that Maisie always ends up better off than she started out at the beginning of the novel. Unlike Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden or Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, both of whom get beat up and nearly killed in every single novel, Winspear seems to have a heart when it comes to Maisie and her life, and the reader can always exult at the end of the book, knowing that Maisie will go on and help others and become happier as each day passes. Winspear's prose is always clean and straightforward, and her plots march briskly along, never lagging in sentimentality or excessive narration. Her characters are rock solid and riveting, and I always find myself wishing I'd lived back in the 20s and 30s in England so I could meet someone like Maisie and sit down to tea with her and Billy, of course. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys smart heroines and zippy mysteries grounded in historical fact. A solid A!
An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor is the sequel to An Irish Country Doctor, a book that takes place in the village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland.
These are feel-good novels along the lines of Gervaise Phinn's books or James Herriott's series, All Creatures Great and Small. This series follows young Dr Barry Laverty as he works through his residency under a small country general practitioner, Dr Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, who is quite a character.The village is also full of characters, from the puffed up, rude mayor to the doctors housekeeper/cook, who is called "Kinky" Kincaid and who makes tremendous dinners and prescient pronouncements for the doctors. In this installment of the series, Dr Barry is under a cloud of suspicion as a hypochondriac patient of his dies, and the locals all wonder whether he's a good physician or not. Dr Barry is also falling in love with a local gal who wants to become an engineer, and will have to go away to school in England for three years if she wins a scholarship. There are also the two elderly oddball residents who finally tie the knot after years of yearning for one another, but being unable to fulfill their love because the gentlemans home had no roof. Now the town has pitched in and fixed his home, and the couple can marry and live happily ever after.
Taylor's Irish Country books take place in the 60s, so times are simpler and the mores and values are more straightforward, however, the under current of sexism and anti-choice nonsense can get a bit irritating for the modern female reader. Still, the prose is sweet and comfortable, the characters charming and the situations fascinating, so it's well worth the occaisional irritant to read the books. I look forward to the next book in the series, An Irish Country Christmas. I just have to bring more books into Baker Street Books in Black Diamond (he doesn't accept hardbacks and is very choosy about which paperbacks he will accept) so I can build up enough credit to afford a copy. I'd recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Ireland and its history, and to those who liked Phinns and Herriotts series. A solid B+ to this engaging series of novels.

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