Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Lesson in Secrets: Review

It's been a while since I sat down to enjoy a visit with Maisie Dobbs in the years between the first and second World Wars. I've had two Jacqueline Winspear's books sitting on my TBR stacks for quite some time, but other books were calling my name more loudly and urgently. I just recently signed up to do a blog tour for the two most recent novels, so I thought I better catch up with Miss Dobbs and see where she is now. First up: A Lesson in Secrets, the eighth book in the series. 

It is now the summer of 1932 and Maisie has been asked by the Special Branch to undertake an assignment to monitor activities in a private college in Cambridge. She applies for a post as junior lecturer in philosophy at The College of St. Francis. Special Branch is interested in activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's government," by which they mean those with communist leanings. But Maisie finds what she believes to be even more worrying evidence of an infiltration of Nazi ideals. Of course, at this time, many of the leaders don't see Hitler and his Nazi party as much of a threat. 

International intrigue isn't the most pressing subject at hand, though. Just a short time after Maisie's appointment begins, the college's controversial pacifist founder and principal, Greville Liddicote, is found murdered. And murdered by a specialist in martial or combat arts. Special Branch wants Maisie to step back from the investigation which will be handled by Detective Chief Superintendent MacFarland and Detective Chief Inspector Stratton (both of whom Maisie has worked with before), but Maisie's top secret assignment soon proves that Liddicote's death may be linked to the suspicious behavior of some of those she's been sent to watch. 

In the midst of Maisie's secret work, she also has another worry. Sandra, a woman who had worked with Maisie before, appeals to her for help. Sandra is now a widow and her husband died in suspicious circumstances. Maisie sees Sandra settled into her apartment and offers her work as a secretary until she can get her feet under her again--and fully intends to start an investigation into the poor woman's husband's death. But before Maisie can marshal her forces--Sandra is arrested for breaking and entering and then disappears after Maisie secures her release from jail. What forces are at work in Sandra's life? Maisie's work is cut out for her and she will have to unravel secrets from the Great War to find her way to the solution of each of these mysteries.

I had forgotten how good Winspear is at taking her readers on a trip through time. She expertly sets the stage to show the reader what life in Britain's colleges was like in the years before World War II. The push for peace after the horrors of the Great War; the hope that further conflict could be avoided; the vulnerability of those who wanted peace so badly. Maisie is, as always, a strong female character--smart, compassionate, and observant, but with enough vulnerabilities of her own to maker her a very real, rather than an idealized character. This was a very enjoyable historical mystery and I look forward to diving into the next two (the second will be part of the blog tour). ★★★★


fredamans said...

I've read rave reviews for the Maisie Dobbs books, so I should read one soon.

Brona said...

I will need to watch out for your blog tour. I know I have book 10 somewhere in my TBR pile....