In the years after World War I, when Maisie Dobbs was a field nurse, she has turned to investigations and psychology. She is a thoughtful, intuitively astute, and persistent investigator possessed of a keen intellect and despite the fact that many of the cases she takes on make her face her own painful war torn past, she is very good at what she does. In this third installment in the series, Maisie agrees to take on a case that requires her to confirm the wartime death of celebrated barrister Sir Cecil Lawton's only son Ralph. She has many misgivings about the case, especially as Sir Cecil is only pursuing this to fulfill his promise to his now deceased wife and not out of his own feelings for his son. But if Maisie takes on this case, she has the leverage to ask Sir Cecil to defend a 13 year old girl who stands accused of murdering her pimp. For young Avril's sake, she takes Lawton's case. She also agrees to look into the scant information available about her friend Priscilla's brother Peter's death to help Priscilla find some closure regarding his loss. Uncovering the truth of the loss of both young airmen will not only take Maisie back to France for the first time since the war, forcing her to face her own demons, but will put her life in danger from an enemy, and place her at cross purposes with someone she trusts and values deeply. These cases force Maisie to acknowledge her own traumas and the survivor's guilt she feels as she tentatively goes on with her life. And at least one of the cases threatens to expose people's work during the war, something that could prove dangerous as hints of another coming conflict start revealing themselves.
As in the previous two books in the series, Winspear has done a wonderful job evoking the time period and she is a master at delving into the psychological underpinnings of each character, including Maisie herself. The novel is a delicate untangling of secrets still hidden, an examination of loss and family, a look at respect and what inspires or earns it, and a sensitive portrayal of homosexuality. Each of the characters in this novel has suffered losses and it is up to Maisie to help them come through those losses wiser and more accepting, if no less sad. There is a pervading sense of sadness, an elegiac feel almost, and the aura of continued damage wrought by the war that marked an entire generation is at play throughout the course of the novel. But there's also an honorable feel to it, that decisions, even if they remained secret, made during and immediately following the war were made thoughtfully and were well considered for their inevitable effect on those left behind. This is not a traditional mystery in the sense of a body, a crime, and the need to find the murderer; instead, it is a mystery that requires diligence and deep psychological dives and I found it all the more satisfying for that. I may not generally read mysteries, but Maisie Dobbs continues to have a fan in me.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours.