The early to mid-20th century is a popular setting in the world of detective fiction, touching as it does on the cataclysmic changes underway on the brink of the modern era. The London atmosphere of Elegy for Eddie, the ninth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, perfectly evokes these changes, as the new is rapidly replacing the old. Workhorses are just about replaced by motorcars and delivery trucks; assembly-line workers replace mom-and-pop entrepreneurs; airplanes attract attention as they fly overhead; and labor unions and feminists are assembling their forces. Behind it all, a major conflict with Germany looms.
Private inquiry agent Maisie Dobbs tries to stay abreast of the changes as she works out of her small London investigative office. She responds to a plea from a group of street peddlers—old friends from her father’s era—who are distraught over the death of Eddie Pettit, a well-known character among the city’s street sellers and hawkers. Eddie, a man whom today we might call mentally challenged, had a willing disposition and a gift for diagnosing exactly what an ailing horse needed. He could communicate with the equine population better than anyone else around. As the use of workhorses waned, Eddie took on other projects as he found them, and one such job proved to be his undoing. Maisie sets out to show that the “accident” was really murder and discover why a gentle, somewhat simple man could have become the victim of such a brutal crime.
Thus, Maisie steps into a mess of prewar political intrigue and danger. Readers may find the protagonist excessively nosy or, in today’s terms, obsessive-compulsive. However, her perfectionism and intrusive nature gets soundly challenged by friends and acquaintances as the story progresses; from the sound of it, Maisie may start questioning her need to be in control and relaxing a bit in future installments of this series. Throughout the book, she tries her best to avoid making a commitment to the man who loves her. But there’s a cool breeze blowing at the end of the novel as we see Maisie and her sometimes-lover, James, relaxing at Sam’s café, enjoying an ice cream cone. This may signal good news for fans of these popular books.