In Winspear's inspired debut novel, a delightful mix of mystery, war story and romance set in WWI–era England, humble housemaid Maisie Dobbs climbs convincingly up Britain's social ladder, becoming in turn a university student, a wartime nurse and ultimately a private investigator. Both naïve and savvy, Maisie remains loyal to her working-class father and many friends who help her along the way. Her first sleuthing case, which begins as a simple marital infidelity investigation, leads to a trail of war-wounded soldiers lured to a remote convalescent home in Kent from which no one seems to emerge alive. The Retreat, specializing in treating badly deformed battlefield casualties, is run by an apparently innocuous former officer who requires his patients to sign over their assets to his tightly run institution. At different points in her remarkable career, Maisie crosses paths with a military surgeon to whom she's attracted despite his disfigurement from a bomb blast at the front. A refreshing heroine, appealing secondary characters and an absorbing plot, marred only by a somewhat bizarre conclusion, make Winspear a new writer to watch. Agent, Amy Rennert. (July 9)
Forecast:Blurbs from Elizabeth George and Charles Todd will alert their readers to the quality of this book, which ought to draw mainstream and romance readers as well.