s.leep's Reviews > A Lesson in Secrets

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
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Apr 04, 11


Words learned: deadheading, inglenook, costermonger, cloche
Words clarified: staid, remit

Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is conscripted by the British secret service of the early 1930s to go undercover as an instructor at a new college founded by the author of a subversive children’s book. Maisie is a skilled investigator and shows an aptitude for teaching, but her job is complicated by a murder on the campus. At the same time, Maisie’s attention is occupied by the mysterious death of a friend’s husband, the impending birth of her assistant’s new baby, and puzzling clues surrounding the whereabouts of her romantic partner abroad. A model of efficiency and poise, Maisie gets things done using her wits and charm along with skillful delegation and prioritization. But can her methodical approach unravel the truth before it escalates into danger on a national or much more personal level?

This is the 8th in a mystery series, and there is a feeling of history and character development over several books. Maisie is likeable and resourceful. Grounded and independent, but social and not standoffish, she’s an intelligent and motivated protagonist. The plot suggests a cozy mystery, but Maisie’s approach makes it more than this; although she is not a physically-oriented character, and the focus of the novel is much more on characters than on danger, Maisie is more than an amateur sleuth, and not above putting in the legwork and even trespassing in the name of inquiry–or in this case, national security.

Whether intentional or not, Maisie feels her government is focused on some threats to the exclusion of others already active on British soil. In our post-911 world it’s hard not to draw parallels. In addition to the period feel and setting, we also learn about the female workforce for the intelligence agencies and the war effort in WWI Britain. Adding color to the novel, it’s fascinating to see the old class system of a century ago in flux, juxtaposed with a very modern–in attitude and action–heroine.

Some of the detecting, especially of matters that Maisie has to delegate, takes place second- or third-hand through her assistant or the police. I wouldn’t have minded reading about those inquisitions, but I understand–or rather, I guess–that this shift in focus is both developmental for the characters and the plot, as Maisie transitions in this book from snoop to spy. As a first-time reader of this series, I never felt lost, and I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to read the first Maisie Dobbs novel. It turns out I’m not alone: there was a 3-month wait for the book at my library, so I requested that the ebook be made available for download. But between the acquisition and my notification, it looks like someone else beat me to that copy as well.

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