In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear (2017)

Note: Other books in this series, and stand alone books by Winspear, can be found using the tag “Winspear” on the right hand side of this site’s main page. This post may contain spoilers for earlier books in this series.

in this grave hour

In This Grave Hour, the thirteenth installment of the fantastic Maisie Dobbs Series, opens on a somber note on September 3, 1939 at the very moment that the British government declared war on Germany and entered World War II. On that same morning, Maisie Dobbs — a “psychologist and investigator” in London — is assigned a new case: find a murderer who is targeting Belgian men who came to England as refugees during the first World War.

After years of personal turmoil, including losing her husband and baby, and working as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, the summer of 1939 finds Maisie Dobbs returned to London and Kent: her city-based investigative business thriving and her weekend life in the country with her father and in-laws stable and contented. However, the declaration of war changes everything immediately: children removed from their city homes and relocated to the live with strangers country; London bracing for bombings; and everywhere young men enlisting, terrifying their parents who still keenly remember their loses in WWI.

Against that back-drop, Maisie follows the trail of a handful of WWI Belgian refugees who came to England as orphaned boys and stayed to build a life after Armistice, men who are now turning up dead, executed one-by-one. Together with her two assistants, the local police, a Secret Service agent, and a Belgian diplomat; Maisie begins to uncover the connection between the then boys, now men, and their murderer and the reasons for these apparently long-delayed executions.

Told in Winspear’s signature style — calm, methodical, precise, and rich with historical details — In This Grave Hour is yet another mesmerizing investigation unfolds and more hints about the future in store for Maisie Dobbs are revealed. Wonderful!

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (2016)

B16

Munich, Germany (Present Day)

A Maisie Dobbs Novel, #13

SPOILER ALERT: If you are reading this series of books in order, please know that the blog post contains plot-line spoilers.

Overview of the series (originally written by me in this post http://wp.me/p6N6mT-5n )

If you are not familiar with Jacqueline Winspear’s wonderful series of mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs novels, you really ought to consider reading all of the books in order. They represent a truly unique take on the British detective story: historically rich in fact and detail, narrated by a modern and refreshing heroine.

The first of the novels begins at the start of the twentieth century where we meet Maisie Dobbs, a servant in a manner house in London who — when caught sneaking into the house library to read at night — is not fired but rather taken under the wing of a wise mentor, the forensic scientist and investigator Maurice Branche. In the first book we see the bright, dedicated, young Maisie rise up from being in service to heading off to college. However, World War I sweeps across Europe and soon Maisie abandons her studies to serve as nurse on the front lines. There she gains an education that she could never have prepared herself for and becomes a young nurse with intimate knowledge of death, injury, and mental anguish.

After the war Maisie returns to England to continue her very, very unique education. By the start of the second novel, we meet the fully educated Maisie who has just started her private investigation agency. However, Maisie is not your run-of-the-mill investigator. Not only are her clients surprised that M. Dobbs is a woman, a self-employed one at that, but that her background includes forensics, psychology, nursing (with special training focusing on the mental injuries of war), as well as private investigative techniques. What makes her even more shockingly modern are both her embrace of eastern techniques, such as meditation, and her use of her psychic abilities to help her solve cases.

Maisie Dobbs believes very strongly that her clients have stories to tell her — stories that are both truth and lies — but also that that the missing and the dead have their own stories to tell as well. As the books progress, readers have become familiar with Maisie Dobbs as a very accomplished investigator who brings her unique style to closing cases in ways that heal the psychological wounds of her clients, as well as solving their more immediate dilemmas.

Book #13

“Who am I? Where do I belong?” These are the questions that Maisie Dobbs is asking herself as Journey to Munich opens. Adrift, Maisie finds that she no longer fits into any of the roles she has previously held: she is no longer a nurse, no longer a business woman, no longer a wife, no longer a mother-to-be. Although she is surrounded by loved ones, she deeply feels as if she has nowhere to call home, feeling too emotional ravaged to return to the home she shared with her beloved husband, “it was as if through grief and having traveled so long, she had changed shape and no longer fit in anywhere.” While traveling she felt safe, back “in England there was so much to fear. The past, her happiness, her memories brushed against her skin like gossamer shadows, alive but not alive, ghosts standing sentinel.”

Rather than face these emotionally charged questions about who and what she will become now that her life has changed irrevocable, Maisie agrees to a dangerous mission for the British Secret Service — she will travel to Munich, and under the very watchful eye of the Third Reich, attempt to bring back to London a British inventor being held in Dachau Concentration Camp. With just one week’s worth of training as an agent of the Secret Service, she in on her way.

Immediately upon her arrival, it becomes clear that the British have far underestimated the power and violence of the Reich. Maisie and her support team are in danger almost at once. As she rushes to secure safe return on the inventor, she must also confront her own personal demons including overcoming her anger and grief in order to work with two people whom she holds responsible for her husband’s death.

In the face of the Nazi’s campaign of torture and terror against foreigners and its own German citizens — and the chilling knowledge that England will not be able to stay out of a war with Germany for long — Maisie comes to see that see that now is the time for her to move past her grief and again make a life. As she is told by the inventor, for now “we have our freedom, we have our lives. We are very, very lucky. Make sure you use yours well.”

Winspear, once again, presents us with a touching, elegantly written story that is both historically factual and personally compelling. As with her first twelve Maisie Dobbs books, this one is a gem that is well worth a read.

A full review of Book #12 can be found here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-5n

Also by Winspear, but not part of the Dobbs Series, is this novel http://wp.me/p6N6mT-am

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear (2014)

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” Aeschylus

My dear friend and neighbor Sophia is a fellow book-lover and we have made it our habit not only to recommend books to one another but also to share the books themselves, walking them to one another, back and forth, across the street which runs between our houses. Sophia lent me this book because she knows I am a fan of Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books (which I have mentioned here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-5n) and I am very thankful for the lend. I found the book to be really enjoyable, filled with thought-provoking information about life during World War I for those on the front lines and the home front. Winspear’s research into the years just before and during WWI is extraordinarily meticulous and it fills the book with substance and sense of reality that a less researched novel could not have managed.

The story in The Care and Management of Lies focuses mainly on Kezia, Thea and Tom Brissenden and their neighbor Edward Hawkes. Opening just months before the start of World War 1, the characters lives appear to be laid out before them in a very ordinary manner: Kezia and Tom have just married and will embark on life running the Brissenden farm in Kent. Tom’s sister Thea has a teaching position in London and is enjoying living life on her own away from the demands of farming. Edward is busy running an estate for his recently deceased father. Almost overnight, England declares war on Germany and the nation’s men and women rush to sign up to serve, including Tom and Edward — as a solider and officer respectively — and Thea as an ambulance driver. Kezia, a new bride and “town lass,” who now must manage and work the farm on her own.

The lies told by the characters in this book are not the sordid lies of many twenty-first century novels. There are no extramarital affairs, no murders, no one driven into financial ruin by an enemy. Rather the lies being told by Kezia, Tom, and the others are omissions — words not said and events left unmentioned — done not to deceive but to spare their loved ones pain and worry. Kezia fails to tell her husband that his beloved farm has been plowed under by the government, its livestock taken; Tom fails to tell Kezia of the misery of the trenches, the horror of watching men and boys die day and night; Thea’s joking tone employed to hide the grim reality of caring for injured soldiers; Edward writes to a mother of her son’s heroic death, even if he was shot for desertion. “Just another little white lie” each thinks as they labor over their letters, painstakingly considering what to leave out and what to put in.

In proper British fashion the characters shoulder of the new responsibilities brought on by the war with little complaint, steadfast in their work ethic. Occasionally their anger at the injustice and indignity of war rears up, “Why wasn’t this terrible war being brought to an end? Why weren’t the politicians locked in a room not allowed to come out until they had brought to a halt this boulder of death rolling down hill unchecked, crushing everyone caught in its path?”

The enormity of how much the war has changed their country, their homes, and their lives weighs on all the characters, large and small, in the book. Not one corner of their existence remains unchanged. England, and in fact the entire world, is forced to redefine what is proper and allowable in the face of so much devastation and death.  Most notably in the book is the extremely rapid transformation of the lives of women who had to change in order for the country to move forward: rules about where they could live, what jobs they could hold, even how they dressed and who the spent time with, all had to adapt because there were no men to do the work and so, so much work to be done.

Overall the book was a wonderful read and offered great, if at times breathtakingly sad, insight into the lives of men and women in early twentieth century.

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear (2015)

A Maisie Dobbs Novel, #12

If you are not familiar with Jacqueline Winspear’s wonderful series of mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs novels, you really ought to consider reading all twelve of the books in order. They represent a truly unique take on the British detective story: historically rich in fact and detail, narrated by a modern and refreshing heroine.

The first of the novels begins at the start of the twentieth century where we meet Maisie Dobbs, a servant in a manner house in London who — when caught sneaking into the house library to read at night — is not fired but rather taken under the wing of a wise mentor, the forensic scientist and investigator Maurice Branche. In the first book we see the bright, dedicated, young Maisie rise up from being in service to heading off to college. However, World War I sweeps across Europe and soon Maisie abandons her studies to serve as nurse on the front lines. There she gains an education that she could never have prepared herself for and becomes a young nurse with intimate knowledge of death, injury, and mental anguish.

After the war Maisie returns to England to continue her very, very unique education. By the start of the second novel, we meet the fully educated Maisie who has just started her private investigation agency. However, Maisie is not your run-of-the-mill investigator. Not only are her clients surprised that M. Dobbs is a woman, a self-employed one at that, but that her background includes forensics, psychology, nursing (with special training focusing on the mental injuries of war), as well as private investigative techniques. What makes her even more shockingly modern are both her embrace of eastern techniques, such as meditation, and her use of her psychic abilities to help her solve cases.

Maisie Dobbs believes very strongly that her clients have stories to tell her — stories that are both truth and lies — but also that that the missing and the dead have their own stories to tell as well. As the books progress, readers have become familiar with Maisie Dobbs as a very accomplished investigator who brings her unique style to closing cases in ways that heal the psychological wounds of her clients, as well as solving their more immediate dilemmas.

Maisie Dobbs, as we meet her at the start of book 12, A Dangerous Place, has suffered through a series of personal traumas that have caused her to shutter her practice for the past three years. She has spent those years alone, traveling the globe, trying to make peace with her psychological wounds. Accidentally ending up in Gibraltar, readers find Maisie bruised and vulnerable, a shadow of the vibrant woman she was at the end of book 11. Maisie soon discovers the body of a local man and she is drawn into the investigation of his murder. Although she wishes she could continue to ignore work in order to focus on her internal struggles, she finds that the dead man is calling out to her for help.

Using her now trademark style of interviews, evidence collecting, and psychic talents she begins to work to help the dead and the living they have left behind. Without any allies or resources in the foreign land and with no official client who has authorized her to investigate, Maisie becomes involved in a plot that involves more than one murder, war time secrets, and many shady characters. She shoulders on, certain that she can tie all of the strands of evidence together to solve the murder and give the victim’s family peace.

These books are a joy to read, well-written and engaging while providing a wonderful historical look at England from the turn of the twentieth century until the brink of World War II, painting a vivid portrait of women’s lives during those decades. Winspear also treats us to an amazing main character, one who is years ahead of her peers in her independence and her east-meets-west wisdom.

NOTE: Rather than re-reading A Dangerous Place, I listened to this book as e-audiobook that was narrated by the delightful Orlagh Cassidy. Her reading was perfectly paced and she voiced Maisie perfectly: proper, insightful, kind and fiercely independent. A wonderful option for commuting or long walks.