I'm not normally a reader of mysteries, so when my book club chose this book, I felt a few minutes of panic. Would I be able to get into the story and characters? What if the mystery was too cheesy and didn't hold my attention? What if I figured out the crux of the mystery too early and the book began to drag? I was so worked up about the fact that this might not be a good read for me that I kept putting it off and shoving it down in the pile for weeks and weeks. When I did finally get to it I was really surprised to discover that this wasn't your typical mystery, and the fact that it had a lot of historical elements made it a really good choice for me.
Though this book ostensibly starts with a mystery, very early on the story takes a turn into historical fiction. I learned where Maisie came from and how she became a scholar, nurse, lover and detective. These sections of the story were very well written. It wasn't hard for me to empathize with Maisie, and it was interesting to see the proverbial rags to riches story told in a very different way. Though Maisie doesn't become rich, she becomes accomplished, respected and very comfortable in her chosen profession, though she does have to inch her way through some very difficult and demanding situations. I think one of the reasons I liked her so much was because she seemed at times vulnerable but never powerless. I liked that she demonstrated such fortitude and that she never let anything stop her from accomplishing her goals. Though I probably wouldn't have made the same choices that she did, I respected her value system. She changed a lot throughout the book, but her changes never felt forced and the fact that she remained steadfast to her beliefs really made me cheer for her. As the historical section winds down, another mystery is added to the mix, and this time it's a mystery of Maisie's past.
Though I really liked the book, I felt that the mystery aspects of the story were a little less than impressive. I'm not sure if this is because I sometimes quickly lose interest in mysteries or if the mystery in this story was somewhat simple and less nuanced. It seemed that the mystery aspects were a little forced at times and I wasn't really convinced that I should care all that much about it. Also, as Nymeth mentions in her wonderful review of this book, some of Maisie's crime solving behavior seemed a little disingenuous. By this I mean that she often mimicked people's postures and inflections, and by doing this, she was immediately struck with revelations about the criminal and crime. I just didn't buy this at all. It was just too easy and lacked the creative flair that I had been expecting. I also thought that the denouement of the mystery wasn't all that satisfying. It all seemed very simple, and I had been hoping for something a little more sophisticated.
One of the things that made this book so interesting was the sections that dealt with the Great War. The war affected not only Maisie and her contemporaries but all of the general population. Many men were killed, injured and disfigured. Mothers lost both sons and daughters as they were either shipped out to become soldiers or medics, and there was a huge gap left in society that was unable to be filled. One of the things that this book addresses is the injuries, both spiritual and physical, that some of these young men suffered. It wasn't enough for them to have given their capabilities in battle, for more often than not, these same men came home utterly changed in so many ways that society couldn't deal with. The basis for the main mystery of this book focuses on this subject in great detail and paints a picture of a generation of men who came home to a family that couldn't recognize or cope with them. I found all this rather sad, and because it was based on historical fact, it spurred me on to search out more information regarding the war and it's effects.
Though this book was met with mixed success, I did really enjoy various parts of it. I think if the book had been infused with a little more historical flashback, it probably would have been a better read for me. I also think that if the mystery was a little more involved and complex it might have been more of a hit. I think the main problem was that this book combined two very different types of storytelling and the effect for me was that of a little lopsidedness. I'm not sure if I will be continuing on with this series, but I am glad that I gave this book a chance.