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by Jacqueline Winspear
Soho, June 2004
360 pages
ISBN: 1569473684

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this second novel by Jacqueline Winspear (after MAISIE DOBBS), Maisie has opened an office as an investigator and acquired an assistant, Billy Beale, to whom she is teaching the methods Maurice Blanche taught her.

It is the spring of 1930 and depression has come to England. There are, however, still some very wealthy people around. Joseph Waite, one of them, brings a case to Maisie. His daughter Charlotte, who is in her early 30s, has vanished from his home and he wants her found and returned.

As she searches, Maisie finds that three of Charlotte's formerly close friends are dead of violence, presumably murder. The four women went to finishing school in Switzerland together, became inseparable friends, and then, after the war began, went their own ways. Was Charlotte the killer? Is she in danger? What happened to destroy this friendship?

There are two subplots in the story. One involves Billy, her assistant, who was wounded in the war and now is acting uncharacteristically moody. Both his wife and Maisie are quite concerned. The other has to do with Maisie's father and her somewhat uneasy relationship with him.

The sense of the period of time in this mystery is delightful. Winspear captures the subtleties and the authentic tone of the times. The war still colors everyone's life and there is no forgetting the horror of the battles and the wounded and the dead. Everyone was scarred by the war. Now, to make matters even worse, depression is beginning to settle in England. Jobs are disappearing and men are taking to the streets. But the wealthy can still afford to shop at Waite's fine butcher stores and emporiums and spend the money that would feed an entire family for a month.

The books is set in London and southern England and the sense of place is excellent. Maisie driving through the countryside conjures visions of tidy fields, bucolic farms, small villages along narrow roads. London, on the other hand, is bustling and crowded with fine shops, beggars in the streets, and outdoor markets.

The characters are well drawn. Maisie Dobbs is an intriguing and attractive woman. Even if you have not read the first book in the series, you will realize that she came from poverty, worked as a maid and was befriended by the woman for whom she worked, and that she served as a nurse in World War I.

She is sincere, devoted to the people around her, and dedicated to her vocation. Serious and high-minded, she follows the clues wherever they take her regardless of what her client has ordered. She worries, in the silence of her room however, because she is isolated and often quite lonely. Billy and Frankie Dobbs, Maisie's father, are honest, hardworking, salt-of-the earth sort of men who perhaps plod a bit but who do what they promise. The other characters are more one-dimensional.

The book is very well written. The prose flows and really puts the reader into the period of time and into the story. I liked this book better than I did the first one which I felt was not really quite a mystery. This one is and the solution to it will perhaps shock you as it shocked me.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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