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Book review: Jacqueline Winspear's "The Mapping of Love and Death" has heart

Maisie Dobbs, the brave, insightful and compassionate protagonist of Jacqueline Winspear's mystery series, has a lock on the hearts of readers as well as the men who would be her suitors. Winspear's new novel about a kind "psychologist and investigator" in 1930s Britain spends as much energy on Dobbs and her circle of friends as it does on the mystery she solves, but doesn't suffer for doing so.

The daughter of a former produce seller, Dobbs has come up in the world, thanks to her thirst for education and the patronage of Lady Rowan. She served as a nurse in France during World War I, where she and her love, a doctor named Simon, were wounded; Simon would later die. The Great War both haunts Dobbs and drives her business, as many of her cases have had roots in it.

In The Mapping of Love and Death, the seventh novel in the series, the elderly Cliftons hire Dobbs to find a mysterious nurse who traded love letters during World War I with their late son, Michael, a mapmaker serving in France where he was declared missing in action in 1916. His body has been recently found; when Dobbs looks over the autopsy reports, she realizes that young Clifton died not from German bombs but from a deliberate blow to the head. Dobbs searches for the nurse Clifton loved and the person who killed him, her urgency increasing when the elderly Cliftons are brutally attacked.

While engaging enough, this book's mystery plot doesn't rise to the intensity of its predecessor, Among the Mad, a gripping tale of terrorism and mental illness. The new book compensates with a rich focus on changes in Dobbs' life: Her mentor and intellectual father figure, Dr. Maurice Blanche, is dying; her assistant, Billy Beale, is trying to integrate his wife back into his household after her long treatment for a breakdown; James Compton, the son of her patron Lady Rowan, has returned to the country and looks at Dobbs with longing eyes. By novel's end, each of these relationships has led to a surprise for Dobbs, and a couple hint at new possibilities for her future.

The Mapping of Love and Death

By Jacqueline Winspear

Harper, 352 pages, $25.99

Book review: Jacqueline Winspear's "The Mapping of Love and Death" has heart 04/24/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:08pm]
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