Over the course of four previous novels, Jacqueline Winspear's heroine, Maisie Dobbs, has developed into one of the most complex and compelling female sleuths in current mystery fiction. A former World War I nurse simultaneously struggling to cope with the ongoing legacy of what she saw and experienced in that horrible war while trying to get her fledgling investigation business off the ground in London, Maisie has emerged as a fully developed, intriguing character. Appealingly contemporary in her personality, credibly part of her time and place (thanks in no small part to Winspear's impeccable historical research), Maisie Dobbs's fans read these books as much for insights into this absorbing heroine as for the engaging mystery plots the author constructs.
AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE, Winspear's fifth outing, will not disappoint readers, with its skillful intersection of character development, historical detail and intricate plotting. The novel opens with Maisie seemingly making a fresh start after the tumultuous events of her previous investigation (recounted in MESSENGER OF TRUTH), a deeply personal case that forced her to confront events of the war but left her estranged from her longtime friend and mentor.
Maisie's newfound happiness, though, is tempered by economic pressures, as the worldwide depression of the early 1930s affects her business prospects in London. When an old family friend asks for her help in investigating some potential business acquisitions in Kent, Maisie leaps at the opportunity to enhance her personal financial situation while visiting with her beloved father. By coincidence, Maisie's long-time assistant Billy is also in the area, participating in the annual hop-picking with his family. It turns out, however, that Maisie will need every bit of Billy's help, her own ingenuity and even the assistance of some most unlikely allies --- the gypsies who also make annual pilgrimages to the region for the hop-picking --- to solve the multi-layered mysteries that haunt this small Kentish village.
During her investigation of a series of petty crimes, including arson, that plague the village and the brickworks her friend is interested in acquiring, Maisie soon suspects that the events are hardly the work of small-time thieves or petty vandals. Instead, as she delves into the inhabitants' history of heartbreak, loss and suspicion, she begins to suspect a much more widespread, and sinister, force is at work --- one that, like her own heartbreak, dates back to the catastrophic events of the Great War.
Set during the turbulent, evocative years between the wars, the Maisie Dobbs series delves into the gaping holes left by one war while exploring the roots of another on the horizon. AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE does a particularly masterful job of this, as Winspear explores how the prejudice inspired by one conflict leads to the insularity, fear and prejudice that can spark another. As for Maisie, the character who readers will eagerly return to again and again, this latest installment will not disappoint. Rather, as she closes the book on one particularly painful chapter of her past, Maisie seems poised, in future installments, to finally pursue the contentment she so richly deserves. Will she uncover this potential happiness with the same aplomb with which she tackles her toughest cases? Readers will wait with bated breath to find out.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl