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May 1, 2013

Leaving Everything Most Loved

Usha Prashad was still on her mind as she cut into a clutch of herbs, then crushed seeds and measured spices according to the recipe given to her by Mrs. Singh. She felt at once as if a spark had lit the kindling under her senses. Her skin tingled when she leaned over the bowl and breathed in the fragrance. The different aromas seemed like ribbons twisted and tied together; though each hue was distinct, a brash new color had been created. It felt alive, this color, as it were a person.
      In two separate pans she fried onions and the whole spices, adding a ginger and garlic paste to the mix, along with crushed almonds. Juggling the pan as best she could -- she wondered just how many frying pans an Indian cook might need -- she set aside the cooked ingredients and turned her attention to the meat. She boned a fresh chicken, putting the carcass in a saucepan with water to draw the stock, perhaps to make a soup for another day. Having cut the flesh into smaller pieces, she began to place them in a large cast-iron frying pan into which she had poured an oil called ghee, also purchased from Singh's shop. When the chicken was golden brown -- and the smell of cooking had well and truly penetrated her flat -- she began to blend the ingredients together, turning down the gas burner to a mere simmer.
      "There," said Maisie. "That should do it." And she smiled, pleased with her efforts thus far.
      Concentration on the task at hand had once again transported her to thoughts of leaving England. She would not be gone for long, perhaps a few months -- six, at the outside. Or perhaps a year. That was a nice, rounded length of time; time enough to truly be a traveler and not a tourist. Some specific plans for that part of her journey were emerging; there was something she wanted to accomplish. And then Canada, perhaps. Certainly, when James described the broad, unforgiving landscape, she was intrigued -- but would that interest sustain her? As she stirred the simmering chicken, she realized, again, that it was James' love for her and hers for him that he imagined would sustain them both -- but would it? She reached for a small pot of cream -- she could not find the yoghurt specified in the recipe but thought this would do -- and used a penny to twist off the lid and poured in half, sweeping it into the deep yellow mixture and enjoying the change in color and texture as it emerged until there was a lighter golden hue, like morning sunshine bringing everything alive.      
      That's what they would be together. Blended. Not two, separate, but two, becoming more united with the years. And there was a comfort in the thought. Perhaps, like a complex dish, they could retain their separateness -- leaning over the pan, she could still distinguish turmeric and cardamom -- but be part of something else, something stronger together. ... She would not fall; she would not be left alone, grieving. ... And she would not lose herself, because in truth, James loved who she was and he would not want to see her become less than the Maisie Dobbs to whom he had given his heart. But still, there was that niggle holding her back, the sense that this was a promise that would change everything.
Even though I've read all of Jacqueline Winspear's novels about Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator in 1930s London, and I look forward to the new one every spring, I've found it a little hard to warm up to the main character. Maisie is intelligent, caring, a woman of conviction, but she also seems cerebral, reserved, formal, very self-contained, someone you might admire from a distance, but only from a distance.

But the title -- and Frances -- had given us a hint that things were moving in a new direction, with this new book, and Maisie seems different, too. As soon as the book begins, with Maisie traveling to Romney Marsh to seek advice from another of her teachers, we know that she is still deciding whether to marry James, and thinking of traveling.  But she's been drawn into two investigations -- the murder of a beautiful, mysterious Indian woman,  and the disappearance of a teenage boy whose father does not seem especially anxious to find him. Maisie is thinking of traveling to India, to follow in Maurice Blanche's footsteps, so the murder seems especially resonant. And it takes her into an immigrant community, and suspicious good works, and a questionable vicar, and a spice shop, and a recipe that she cooks for James instead of the simple soup and bread he was expecting,

We all have times when we can't read a certain book because it just doesn't fit the mood we're in, but I wonder if I liked this book even more than usual -- and Maisie, this time -- because it did fit mine. Not to leave anything I love, or necessarily to travel, but to branch out somehow, cook something fragrant and complicated, do something new.

{image found here} 


Frances said...

Yes. I felt the same way. I think I was also in danger of becoming a little bored with the series before this one. That there was always some type of peace with self that was on her horizon but she was never actually going to get there. This was a welcome shift.

JoAnn said...

I am SO far behind and really must catch up with Maisie. It's been a couple of years since I listened to the first books (you know how bad I am with series). I miss her...

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