Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Maisie Dobbs #2
Published by Penguin on January 1st 1970
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. When three of the heiress's old friends are found dead, Maisie must race to find out who would want to kill these seemingly respectable young women before it's too late. As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War.
After feeling somewhat equivocal about the latest book in this series, A Dangerous Place, it was a real treat to go back to the “original” Maisie in this second book in the series, Birds of a Feather. This feels like the Maisie we first met in Maisie Dobbs and who set off on a grand adventure in Leaving Everything Most Loved. It was good to spend time with her again, as part of this year’s Month of Maisie Readalong. After returning to Maisie’s roots, now I’m eager for Journey to Munich at the end of the month.
Birds of a Feather follows about a year after the contemporaneous events in Maisie Dobbs. It has been a successful year for Maisie, and she has been able to afford a better office and upgrade her wardrobe. As her client list grows, she needs to be able to appear as well-to-do as some of her clients, while never forgetting where she came from, a costermonger’s daughter who had some very lucky educational breaks.
This story, like the stories in Maisie Dobbs, is about Maisie discovering more about herself through solving the case that has come to her. Her mentor, Maurice Blanche, never believed in coincidences, and neither does Maisie. While searching for Charlotte Waite, Maisie will also be searching for something in her own life that she has been avoiding – until it confronts her with a crash.
As with the earlier book, Maisie is still very much in the post-WW1 era, and both this case and the surrounding events in Maisie’s life reflect this. The case itself revolves around actions during the war, and her assistant’s difficulties are the result of his war injuries. Maisie herself is still trying to move on from the loss of her lover during the late War – not directly to death, but to brain-damaging injuries. His body is still alive, but the man he was is locked inside his head, never to return. And her visits to Simon also become part of her case.
So this story begins, as so many mysteries do, with a case. Charlotte Waite is missing. Again. Her wealthy father wants her found, again. There are no signs of foul play, and no one is asking for ransom. Charlotte seems to have merely bolted. Again.
It’s only as Maisie begins to investigate the “whys”, not just of Charlotte’s current disappearance but of Charlotte’s life as a whole, that Maisie discovers that Charlotte may have run, not just from her overbearing father, but in very real fear for her life. And that like it does for so many others, what is wrong with Charlotte is still, very much, part of the war.
Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed returning to this second entry in the series, but not quite as much as either the first book or Leaving Everything Most Loved. I’m also not sure whether to say it is best to read the series in order or not. Obviously, I haven’t and have still enjoyed them so far. I do think one needs to read the first book in order for the rest to make sense.
However, some readers who seem to be reading the series in order were frustrated by the inclusions of Billy Beale’s problems and Maisie’s agonized decisions about her relationship with her father. Because I’ve read the later books, I saw these seeming digressions as necessary to her future story, but that can’t be obvious to people reading the series in order.
At first, it seems as if the case that Maisie is involved in is pretty simple. Most 21st century readers probably sympathize with Charlotte’s situation, and would have bolted long ago from the household of her overbearing father. In the story, he is so dictatorial as to border on abusive – Charlotte is in her early to mid 30s at this point, and should be living her own life, whether that’s independently or with a husband and children. Something is obviously wrong here.
But as Maisie begins to dig into the case, she discovers connections to the war that illuminate a bit of World War I history that may or may not be familiar to readers. The Order of the White Feather really did exist portrayed in the book. Women really did shame men into enlisting by publicly giving them a white feather, which had long been held as a symbol of cowardice in Britain and the Empire.
Whether or not groups of socialites competed to see how many feathers they could give away, and how many of those men they later saw in enlistments lines they got “points” for, is anyone’s guess. But it is certainly plausible. And the results have to have been tragic. A generation of young British men died in World War I. Some of the dead have to have been prompted by that white feather.
So, even though the War is now a decade in the past, its shadow still looms over Charlotte Waite, her father, a desperate killer…and Maisie Dobbs.
If you like historical mysteries set in the WW1 and post WW1 era, take a look at Charles Todd’s two historical mystery series, Bess Crawford and Inspector Ian Rutledge. Bess is a WW1 nurse who often stumbled on old fashioned murder in the midst of the trenches. Rutledge is a war veteran still suffering from shell-shock who is also a police detective. His experiences during the war often inform or aid his post-war criminal investigations. And for a real treat, dive into the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, as related by Laurie R. King.