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A LESSON IN SECRETS
by Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2011
336 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 0061727679


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Long ago, Maisie Dobbs worked as a servant for a wealthy family. Fortunately, they recognized that she had untapped intellectual abilities and supported her in a quest for knowledge. Eventually, Maisie found herself becoming involved in solving crimes. And in the seventh book in this series, THE MAPPING OF LOVE AND DEATH, Maisie received a large inheritance which enabled her to open her own private investigation agency. She is assisted by Billy Beale who is learning the ropes and becoming an essential employee. Maisie finds ways to reward his dedication, despite the fact that he is loathe to take any handouts. In a clever maneuver, she buys a house in a nice neighborhood and rents it to Billy and his wife, who are currently expecting a child and living in an undesirable neighborhood. Similarly, she helps an old-time friend, Sandra Tapley, whom she hires to do the agency's administrative work. Sandra is very talented, but she has issues of her own due to the suspicious death of her young husband, a circumstance that causes her to uncharacteristically neglect her duties.

The agency is doing very well, but Maisie finds that she is a bit dissatisfied as she needs some new challenges. Her desire is fulfilled when the British Secret Service asks her to take on an undercover assignment. They ask her to apply for a job teaching philosophy at a private college in Cambridge so that she can observe whether there are any secret anti-government activities occurring. The college's founding principles center on promoting peace. Maisie does well in the educational environment and does find that there are some campus members who are involved in the rising Nazi movement, attending meetings in London. It's 1932, and Nazism at that time was not viewed in the same light as it would be in a few years.

Maisie is a likeable character, and she never forgets her own humble background, often helping those in reduced circumstances to achieve their goals. However, I found that she was overly talky as far as the events transpiring in the book. I much prefer to see what is going on than being told about it. Billy is assigned his own case; and rather than seeing how he handles it, we only receive his reports on what he has done. I also found it odd that Maisie wasn't at all proactive about figuring out what was going on when there were issues in her romantic relationship.

Although the author has done an excellent job on researching the period, I found the basic premise of the book to be weak. The college was not exactly a hotbed of political activity, so it never made sense to me why the Secret Service had asked Maisie to take on the assignment. They were aware of the Nazi meetings that Maisie uncovered and not at all alarmed by them. Maisie warns them that this is a dangerous group, as if she could foresee the future.

Overall, I had a mixed reaction to the book. I found the information about this particular period in history interesting, but I also feel that the direction that Maisie's life has taken is rather unrealistic. Although she may have had some early struggles, much of what she has accomplished is due to the generosity of others, rather than her own efforts.

Formerly a training development manager for a large company, Maddy is now retired and continues to enable the addiction of crime fiction fans as owner of the online discussion group, 4 Mystery Addicts(4MA), while avidly reading in every possible free moment herself.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, May 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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