“Birds of a Feather” by Jacqueline Windspear – the second in her mystery series set between the wars

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Windspear is the second of her detective stories featuring Maisie Dobbs. Maisie is a female detective who has set up her own agency just after WW1 which is obviously a time in which established gender roles would make that difficult. Maisie was born and brought up in a large country house but as part of the servants. Her intelligence and willingness to learn had resulted in her being encouraged to study and to be able to move up the social classes as a result of the patronage of others. This means that Maisie is at home in lots of different environments and this helps with her detective work. She also has the advantage of some influential friends.

The setting of the books just after WW1 is important to the stories. Many of the characters are wounded physically and mentally by the recent conflict including Maisie herself who worked as a nurse. Society is changing and there is the opportunity for someone like Maisie to make her mark. Although some characters are unhappy with a female investigator the author doesn’t use their opposition as a major plot point and Maisie is able to use her confidence to gain access to people and places.

In the early days of the twentieth century psychology was becoming fashionable and better known and Maisie represents herself as a psychologist as well as a detective. This means that she has insight into how people think and what they do – always useful in a mystery plot. I did feel that the author seems to mix up psychology with mysticism in some places and am not always convinced of Maisie’s reasoning but this didn’t get in the way of the plot – I suppose that, in other books, it might be seen as female intuition.

In this particular episode of the series Maisie is hired to find a runaway heiress but her search uncovers some unexpected dead bodies. In addition, she has to handle some personal issues which arise from the past. It’s a good read and the atmosphere of the 1920s is well done and makes this series a little bit different. I very much enjoy books with an intelligent and independent heroine. If you haven’t read aby of them I would start with the first one Maisie Dobbs.

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