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4.5**** -- the best maisie dobbs novel
on 8 May 2014
Well done, Jacqueline Winspear. All the things that I thought were missing from the previous novel, "A Lesson in Secrets," are fully acknowledged here -- the plot brings up issues that relate to differences in class (and that, of course, reflects on Maisie's relationship with James Compton), differences in education (which has enabled Maisie to move out of the class she was born into), historical circumstances (the rise of Hitler) and British politics c. 1933. The secondary plot -- the one that focuses on Maisie's life -- raises questions about one's right (or not) to make decisions about the well-being of others less fortunately situated, and that plot has a tight thematic relation to the main plot -- the matter of Maisie's investigation -- which raises a parallel question about who has the right to decide, in an ostensible democracy, what's best for "the people," or the country as a whole, and the further question of what means might be justified in pursuing that ostensibly "good" end. Thus Maisie finds herself dealing with people whose analysis of the dangers of the times agrees with her own -- but whose actions in furtherance of a response to the dangers are much more questionable.
I'm writing with a thematic focus to avoid "spoilers" as best I can, but I think I can say that a Rupert Murdoch-like figure looms large in the novel (though not quite in the way one might expect), and Winston Churchill makes a cameo appearance. Also, James Compton and the husband of Maisie's friend Priscilla are tied to the main plot much more closely than is usual. Best of all, the plot is wrapped up to the extent that we know by the end who is responsible for what -- and yet that wrapping up doesn't resolve the moral difficulties that Maisie is made aware of as she moves towards solving the case. Sandra and Billy. Maisie's staff members, figure prominently. The way the plotting combines personal and professional challenges for Maisie is really very well worked out. This is a good one!