Pardonable Lies (Audio)

pardonable-liesLast spring, I read the first two books in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series in quick succession. They seemed like they should be great reads. The setting, England just after World War I, is fascinating. Maisie, the detective heroine, is independent, intelligent, and haunted by her own experiences in the war. And I had the pleasure of reading the books while I was vacationing in London, so I could walk down the very streets that Maisie walked down. A perfect formula.

Ultimately, however, I found the books unsatisfying. Maisie is indeed an appealing character, and the books do a great job of showing how World War I had a devastating effect on an entire generation. But there was something in the writing that kept me from being fully drawn in. I think a lot of it has to do with something that would appear to be a strength in mystery writing–Winspear’s meticulous attention to detail. Every movement, no matter how small, is carefully described and explained. I believe that Winspear’s intent is to demonstrate just how observant Maisie is, and how even tiny mannerisms can reveal a person’s character. But not every movement is significant, and not every action needs explanation. In the end, the narrative voice just felt unnatural, and I decided that the series wasn’t a good fit for me.

After deciding to abandon the series, I saw Dorothy’s post on how much she enjoyed the series on audio and how she noticed more of the flaws when she read it in print. Her complaints about the print version were similar to mine, so when I saw the audio version of the third book at the library I thought I’d give it a try.

In Pardonable Lies, Maisie is hired to verify that the son of a wealthy barrister is indeed dead. She also becomes involved with the police’s case against a young women who is accused of murder and helps a friend find out what happened to her brother who died a mysterious death during the war. Soon, a couple of freak accidents make it clear that one of these cases is putting Maisie’s life in danger.

As in the earlier books, the various mysteries intersect with Maisie’s own personal life and with the struggles common to people of her period. That was the best thing about the previous books, and it continued to be true here. Unfortunately, the problems I had with the writing were also evident, although less annoying on audio. I usually listen to audiobooks in the car, so I do get distracted from listening. Because Winspear mentions and explains so many details, I never really lost the drift of the story the way I sometimes do with audiobooks. Plus, the reader, Orlagh Cassidy, was a pleasure to listen to. She gave each character a distinct voice, and her tone made it seem that she was genuinely enjoying telling the story. I don’t think I would have liked the book much in print, but my standards for audio are not very high. (Can I follow the story? Do I feel like I’m missing much? Is it better than drive-time radio?) Even books by writers whose work I generally don’t enjoy can be entertaining listens. (Philippa Gregory and Jodi Picoult being two examples.) Maisie Dobbs on audio didn’t blow me away, but I’d certainly listen to the sequels if I come across them.

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4 Responses to Pardonable Lies (Audio)

  1. Steph says:

    I actually enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books – the excessive details aren’t bothersome to me, and I find I can knock off one of these books in a day or two. Plus, I tend to be a sucker for mysteries set in England during that time period, so really these are right up my alley.

    But the real reason I was posting was not to disagree with you, but to say that you should NOT listen to the next book on audio, because it is truly awful. By far the worst book in the series thus far, and not at all fun to read. I wrote about it on my site if you’re at all interested in finding out more about why I didn’t like it, and felt it was a huge fumble for the series.

    • Teresa says:

      Steph: I can see why some might like these books. I can think of far worse choices for light fiction. I think for me the ratio of eye-rolling moments to moments of pleasure was just a tad too high. And thanks for the warning about the next book. I read your review, and it does sound like some of the annoyances from the previous books get worse. Maisie’s priggishness and aloofness and her being too “perfect” to be believed seemed less of a problem in Unpardonable Lies than in Birds of a Feather, and if it gets worse, I’d probably get really frustrated, especially since the end of this book offered some indicaitons that she was softening a bit.

      If you like mysteries from this period, have you read Laurie King’s Mary Russell books? They don’t deal as directly with the effects of WWI as this series does, but they are set mostly in 1920s England. The whole series is just brilliant, and Russell is a marvelous character. And as far as I’m concerned, Dorothy L. Sayers can’t be beat.

  2. Steph says:

    I’ve not read the Mary Russell series, but I’ve seen it cropping up at blogs all over the place, so I’ve added the first one to my list to give a try (provided I can find a copy! Come on, library! Don’t let me down!). I’ll have to check into Dorothy L. Sayers as well.

  3. Teresa says:

    Steph: If you haven’t read any Sayers, you’re in for a real treat. She is the queen of British mytery writers–right up there with Agatha Christie in fame but (in my opinion) a much better writer. Strong Poison is good to start with because it’s the start of Lord Peter Wimsey’s relationship with Harriet Vane, and their relationship is one of my favorite in literature.

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