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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Jacqueline Winspear at Barnes & Noble

There is only one long-running mystery series that I have read all the way through- Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.  We first met Maisie as a young child and have watched her as she worked as an ambulance driver and nurse in WWI France, followed in her mentor's footsteps and became a private investigator, and now in the 15th book in the series, The American Agent, Maisie is again working as volunteer ambulance driver in WWII London during the Blitz.

Winspear made an appearance at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side in Manhattan last week and a fellow Maisie fan (and Book Cellar volunteer) Allison and I were thrilled to be part of the standing-room only crowd to hear her speak.
Tom Santropietro and Jacqueline Winspear

Tom Santropietro interviewed Winspear and he began by asking her to describe how she got the idea for Maisie. Winspear said she was driving in a rainstorm in her home in California when she saw Maisie coming up from a train station in London in a fog. She knew Maisie's story right away, everything about her in that vision, which she called a "moment of artistic grace". She came out of it when the car behind honked his horn, asking what particular shade of green she was waiting for the light to turn.

In The American Agent, Maisie is called upon to assist an American Department of Justice official in investigating the murder of an American female war correspondent. Winspear spoke of all of the female war correspondents who inspired her character (Martha Gelhorn, Margaret Higgins, Dickie Chappell).

I particularly liked Winspear's comment that whereas male war correspondents wrote and spoke about tactics, military strategy and weapons, the women "bore witness to the human cost of war", how it affected men, women and families.

She also spoke of how the wireless radio made a big change in how WWII was viewed differently than WWI. The advent of everyone having a radio meant that the war was immediately broadcasted into people's homes. A young Edward R. Murrow's radio broadcasts back home to America helped push American sentiment into entering the war to aid the Allies. (He makes an appearance in the novel.)

Winspear grew up in England, and her parents lived through WWII. She spoke about how little they talked about their experiences. The people of England truly followed the adage "Keep Calm and Carry On".

Santropietro asked Winspear about her most famous fans, the Clinton family. She said she was gobsmacked  when Bill Clinton was quoted in the NY Times saying that Maisie Dobbs was one of his favorites. Then she learned that Hillary, her mother and Chelsea all loved Maisie. She has heard from many fans that they read Maisie Dobbs as a family, and how that delights her.

The American Agent is one of the strongest books in the Maisie Dobbs series, perhaps because the stakes are so high here as everyone is affected by the war coming to London via the Blitz. My review of the book can be found here.

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