Friday, April 13, 2012

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear


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The book's description  from the publisher's website:

Maisie Dobbs—psychologist, investigator, and "one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting" (Parade)—returns in a chilling adventure, the latest chapter in Jacqueline Winspear's bestselling series.
Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden—sellers of fruit and vegetables on the streets of London—Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. When Eddie is killed in a violent accident, the grieving costers are deeply skeptical about the cause of his death. Who would want to kill Eddie—and why?
Maisie Dobbs' father, Frankie, had been a costermonger, so she had known the men since childhood. She remembers Eddie fondly and is determined to offer her help. But it soon becomes clear that powerful political and financial forces are equally determined to prevent her from learning the truth behind Eddie's death. Plunging into the investigation, Maisie begins her search for answers on the working-class streets of Lambeth where Eddie had lived and where she had grown up. The inquiry quickly leads her to a callous press baron; a has-been politician named Winston Churchill, lingering in the hinterlands of power; and, most surprisingly, to Douglas Partridge, the husband of her dearest friend, Priscilla. As Maisie uncovers lies and manipulation on a national scale, she must decide whether to risk it all to see justice done.
This ninth part in Maise Dobbs series is, simply put, amazing. I have so far read only three other books: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather and Among the Mad, and I think that Elegy for Eddie is the one I loved the most.There just so many reasons for my high regard of Elegy for Eddie and I hope to explain at least the crucial ones, the ones that I think would convince you to reach for this book next time you're wondering what to read.

I think the most important thing and the first one that struck me is how perceptive and empathetic Maisie Dobbs is. She's such a tormented soul herself, and yet she can feel and see the pain in others, the true nature of someone, who may not want this nature to be revealed to the world. Through Maisie and her uncanny insights, Jacqueline Winspear reveals her great writing talent. She's written the kind of book that made me marvel at how anyone could just sit down and write in such a way, and that only made me more certain of my belief that writing, just like any other form of art, is an innate gift and no number of courses or writing classes attended will give an aspiring author what they weren't born with, and Ms. Winspear is the lucky one that was born with this writing talent (probably grasping it firmly in her fist).

Elegy for Eddie really, truly was an elegy for 'a gentle giant' that although dead, his spirit and soul came alive as more details and puzzle pieces were being uncovered. And I cried. I cried for this innocent man (who most likely was a savant) and for the people whose lives he touched and who were bereft after his death. Eddie might only have had his mom for family but he was loved by almost everyone who got to know him. When he died, he left a hole in their hearts. For those who are familiar with other installments of Maisie Dobbs, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Eddie and his death seemed to me the embodiment of all the lives of sons, husbands, brothers and fathers lost in WWI and of all the women in those men's lives left to live on despite their broken hearts that could never be mended. It might just be me with my occasional flair for the dramatic, but that's how I understood Elegy for Eddie. After all, isn't it up to each and every individual reader to take from a novel what they wish and not what they're told to?

Have you noticed how nothing so far has been written here about the actual investigation into the murder of Eddie? This is because the investigation alone, 'the murder mystery' is such a miniscule part of the book that I didn't want to give a wrong idea about any particular genre or category this novel would belong to. Elegy for Eddie, more than other books in the series, transcends all genres. It's a literary work, that's also historical fiction, that does indeed carry elements of suspense and actual murder investigation, and that is, above all, a portrait of society (regardless of the year on the calendar) where the poor and the struggling have more wisdom to impart and see more things in the world around them than the rich of this world, who, for the most part, choose to live a life believing wisdom isn't necessary and hardships will not touch them. It's sad to read Elegy for Eddie (which takes place in 1933, only a few short years before WWII) from a perspective of someone for whom WWII belongs to the past (terrible, terrible past, but past nonetheless) looking into the lives of people who thought the worst of the wars had already been fought, not knowing yet that their children would again take up the guns and go fight, possibly never to return again. That flair for drama might be rearing its head again, but when I read books set in the period between the two World Wars, especially when it's books written by Jacqueline Winspear, I can't help but get philosophical and melancholy about the nonsense and cruelty of war and the waste of precious lives, lives of people who, when going off to war, "go to fulfill the dreams of dreamers" (to quote from another favorite author of mine, Gail Tsukiyama).

FTC: I received an ARC of Elegy for Eddie from the publisher, HarperCollins.

If you have time and/or you need some more inspiration to read Elegy for Eddie and other books featuring Maisie Dobbs, try visiting a blog created and written by Ms. Winspear and dedicated to Maisie and her generation: