I've just finished reading Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs (Penguin paperback, 2004) and I have a couple of complaints for the publisher. Maisie Dobbs, an Alex Award winner, is an adult novel, kind of a mystery, kind of a romance, kind of an elegy, about a female private eye in 1929 London. She takes a case whose roots are in the battlefields of France during the Great War. The book has some triteness in both plot and character, but there is so much good about the thinking Maisie does as she pursues her case, and the way the author constructs her story, with a hefty section in the middle devoted to a flashback that illuminates both the opening and closing sections. It shouldn't work but it does.
Anyway, the book has nothing to do with Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe, but a review quote on the back cover from the AP calls it the "British counterpart" to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The two books are completely dissimilar, and besides, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is already the British counterpart to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. (I'm reminded of Florence King's rejoinder to a critic finding King's "fascination for machines rather than people" the "most disturbing and extreme form of necrophilia." King retorted, "When will feminists learn to think before they write? The most disturbing and extreme form of necrophilia is necrophilia.")
Still, as Elizabeth pointed out to me, no publicist worth his or her salt would let the McCall Smith reference go by unblurbed. (We both cherish the memory of a money-spinning review quote for a YA novel whose memory need not be sullied by identification: "gives new meaning to the word 'art.'")
More irritating--almost fatally so, at least to me--is the stupid "Readers Guide" appended to Maisie Dobbs. Way back before the rise of the reading group craze, I remember Delacorte appending questions to Don Gallo's groundbreaking short story anthology Sixteen, and the collective Best Books committee roasting then-publisher George Nicholson for putting homework assignments into a trade anthology. Who needs it? Who needs prompts (props?) for a recreational book discussion? What threatened to kill Maisie Dobbs for me was when, in the appended interview with the author, Winspear is asked "How were you able to create such a humanly sensitive private investigator?" (calling Jeff Gannon: I think we might have found a job for you) and Winspear, in part, responds, "as far as what enabled me to create such a character, I think my own life experiences together with my training and work as a personal/life coach have helped." Crap. So what all the while I've been reading as an exceedingly beguiling assay of the nature of knowledge and its interrogation by experience has in fact been just a pile of New Age hooey? Phooey. I'll know better next time to stop at The End.