Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear John Murray $232 Private detective Maisie Dobbs gets her second outing in Jacqueline Winspear's new crime novel. Maisie, who calls herself a psychologist and investigator, started as a maid to the London aristocracy, then won herself a place at Cambridge, before serving as a nurse in the first world war. It's little wonder she has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. In keeping with her psychological inclinations, Maisie is interested in solving riddles of the whole person, not just of wrongdoing. She's a keen fan of the talking therapies, and won't sign-off on a case until she has comprehensively debriefed the participants. She also uses yoga and meditation techniques, both learned from a Ceylonese guru, to tap into the auras of people and places, and puts the knowledge thus acquired to work in surprising ways. Birds of a Feather is set in London in 1930. Winspear is brilliant at evoking the atmosphere of the city and of a country still mourning the dead of the first world war. The plot twists and turns. When a rich man's daughter goes missing, Maisie and her cockney sidekick, Billy Beale, take on the case. But this isn't an instance of a wilful daughter defying her father to run away from home. Soon, the corpse count is mounting. In solving the murders, Maisie uncovers secrets long buried. All the characters are forced to confront ghosts from their pasts. The outcome reveals how tragedies of the war are still unfolding. Winspear often withholds pieces of evidence, known to Maisie, from the reader. It can be annoying, although some might find it intriguing. Once I had two crucial pieces of evidence, I guessed the identity of the murderer, and also the reason for the killings. This evidence came long before the end of the book. However, I read on, since Birds of a Feather combines a relatively gripping investigation with a moving portrait of love, loss and the way the past is prologue to the present. The memory, and the promise, of romance pervade the novel. There's romantic sadness in Maisie's past. Her betrothed didn't survive the war unscathed, and is no longer husband material. But by the final chapter, Maisie, who is in her early 30s, is dangling two potential suitors: a doctor and a Scotland Yard detective. Winspear is English, although she now lives in California. She's great on London settings - a grocer's shop, a teahouse, the warehouses along the Thames. But she isn't so good on social settings and class distinctions. Her portrait of the English upper classes is obsequious and her rendering of cockney sometimes is overdone. 'Aye-oop,' says Billy Beale, ''ere's a nice cuppa for you, Miss.' Still, perhaps the conventions of the genre demand that she write, in nostalgic vein, of a fantasy past that never was.