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Maisie Dobbs #14

To Die But Once

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During the months following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Maisie Dobbs investigates the disappearance of a young apprentice working on a hush-hush government contract. As news of the plight of thousands of soldiers stranded on the beaches of France is gradually revealed to the general public, and the threat of invasion rises, another young man beloved by Maisie makes a terrible decision that will change his life forever.

Maisie’s investigation leads her from the countryside of rural Hampshire to the web of wartime opportunism exploited by one of the London underworld’s most powerful men, in a case that serves as a reminder of the inextricable link between money and war. Yet when a final confrontation approaches, she must acknowledge the potential cost to her future—and the risk of destroying a dream she wants very much to become reality.

352 pages, ebook

First published March 27, 2018

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About the author

Jacqueline Winspear

55 books7,198 followers
Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in the county of Kent, England. Following higher education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Jacqueline worked in academic publishing, in higher education and in marketing communications in the UK.

She emigrated to the United States in 1990, and while working in business and as a personal / professional coach, Jacqueline embarked upon a life-long dream to be a writer.

A regular contributor to journals covering international education, Jacqueline has published articles in women's magazines and has also recorded her essays for KQED radio in San Francisco. She currently divides her time between Ojai and the San Francisco Bay Area and is a regular visitor to the United Kingdom and Europe.

Jacqueline is the author of the New York Times bestsellers A Lesson in Secrets, The Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, and An Incomplete Revenge, and other nationally bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex,
and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel and was a New York Times
Notable Book.

* Maisie Dobbs


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5 stars
6,184 (38%)
4 stars
7,411 (46%)
3 stars
2,125 (13%)
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1 star
55 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,566 reviews
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,331 reviews2,145 followers
July 29, 2018
Book 14 in the series and set right in the middle of World War 2. The author writes very movingly about events surrounding Dunkirk and the threat of an invasion of Britain from the point of view of the people left behind who knew only what the censor allowed them to know.

In the course of the book Maisie searches for the truth about a missing fifteen year old boy, helps put a major criminal behind bars and discovers a spy. In her personal life she tries to adopt an orphaned girl and helps her friends cope with having their sons involved in the fighting and the war effort. There are some very interesting descriptions of how it was to travel at that time. Petrol was rationed and rapidly becoming unavailable to ordinary people and trains were overloaded with troop movements.

All the characters in these books have really grown on me as the series has progressed. There are still some loose ends though so I am hoping for another book - or several even!
Profile Image for Shirley Revill.
1,197 reviews248 followers
November 16, 2018
I absolutely enjoyed this audiobook that was set in the early days of world war two. There is so much going on in this story and Maisie is there to crack the mystery. I can't wait for the next audiobook in the series and I found that this book worked well as a standalone.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,142 reviews
March 13, 2018
Another excellent entry in the MAISIE DOBBS series. I have been wondering how Winspear would handle the introduction of the second World War, and how it would impact our main characters, all of whom were touched by the First in significant ways. In TO DIE BUT ONCE, we have this introduction, and it's both quite personal and part of the larger history, with a plot point hinging on Dunkirk.

It is essential to have read prior books in the series before this one, as many characters from throughout the series make appearances. The mystery Maisie is looking to solve is not the prominent story, and I wonder if we might be coming to the end of the series, as things feel as though they are being tied up slowly and in a satisfying way. After all, it's not likely we readers will stand for the second generation of characters -- Priscilla and Billy's boys among them -- to die in battle.
Profile Image for Deanna.
946 reviews53 followers
September 25, 2018
To my relief, this is still a solid, nearly fluff-free historical mystery series. It’s slow-moving and subtle in its flow of tension and drama. The main character is barely quirky in a refined, quiet way.

I don’t wait anxiously for the next in the series but when I get to it I’m pleased to have had another visit.

Please may this positive review not jinx the series into a series-killing what-happened-here disappointment. I’ve had a run of those and when I do, I get tend to get spooked for all my favorite series. Winspear is confidence-inspiring, though, in her quality consistency, attention to detail, and apparent disinterest in melodrama, cheap emotional manipulation, and over-sentimentality. Knock knock knock on a wooden bookcase.
Profile Image for Erikka.
1,911 reviews
February 3, 2018
I just love this series. These mysteries are so well crafted, the historical aspects are so authentic, and Maisie is such a beautifully developed character that I feel like you live in the book more than read it. Every Maisie Dobbs book is an experience, not just a book. The exploration of war profiteering, the challenges of adoption for single women in the 1940s, and the evacuation of Dunkirk were all particular high points of this adventure. I also found myself worrying about the fictional children of fictional Maisie’s fictional supporting character friends. You know a book is well written when you actually tell your husband “Boy, I hope young Billy comes home...the Beales don’t need another loss after Lizzie.” Lol
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
May 20, 2021
I really liked the mysteries in this one but from near the start it was a sad situation.

I loved all the settings and that the book’s storyline took place at such an interesting time. I liked that the reader sees how ordinary English people handled various situations.

I love Anna, and I hope everything will go as well as possible with the situation with her and Maisie.

Two great dogs and a horse in this one.

I’ve cried only a very few times when I’ve read the books in this series but I cried a bit while reading this book.

As usual, there are interesting and informative author’s notes at the end. I appreciated how the author has family/personal connections & experiences with so many aspects of this particular story including Dunkirk, toxic fire retardant paint and many other WWII specific event & situations.

Some of many quotes that I liked:

“And I know only too well how time can cast a sort of skin over an event—a membrane that gets thicker until a point where broaching the subject is all but impossible, even when you think you can face the grief and terror once more.”

“Tragedy is so personal, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before, to someone, somewhere—it’s what helps us to understand and bring solace to others, knowing something of what they feel.”

“about putting on the light in a dark room. He told me that when we keep secrets they grow inside us, and we can’t see the truth of them anymore.”

4-1/2 stars rounded up vs. down because I particularly liked this book #14.
Profile Image for Holly in Bookland.
1,079 reviews441 followers
May 29, 2018
After I started this, I realized that I skipped the 13th book! How I missed that one last year is beyond me! I still love this series and I’m liking the way WWII is being introduced. Looking forward to more from Maisie Dobbs.
677 reviews24 followers
August 8, 2019
I have read most of Jacqueline Winspear's book and have loved them. This, however, I just couldn't get into but I finished reading it as a tribute to her work.
Profile Image for Kathy Davie.
4,713 reviews708 followers
June 28, 2018
Fourteenth in the Maisie Dobbs, private investigator–historical mystery series now at the start of World War II in England and revolving around Maisie and the people who surround her.

My Take
I can't help but love Maisie Dobbs. Every time I read her story, I'm so impressed with her rise from her poor beginnings, simply because she wanted to learn and of her compassion for others. Yes, yes, I know this is fiction, but fiction can motivate us into believing a dream, and that's not a bad thing.

As Maisie remembers an old aphorism: "Where there's muck, there's brass", a comment about how war enriches the coffers of some and pushes others to ignore safety issues. The horror that kills so many, so needlessly. There's also a somewhat brighter side, of men, women, boys, who are willing to step up and help. Winspear pulls in the evacuation of Dunkirk, although I think she could have, should have?, created more tension for that aspect of the story.

There's also the pride and fear of those left behind, especially when the last war is still so close in their memories. Maisie does pull from the personal for what tension there is about Dunkirk in particular, what with Priscilla's and Billy's horrible experiences during World War I, as they worry about loved ones caught up in the evacuation. Other side themes include Maisie's worries about Anna and how accepted she is in both households; the benevolent spy is quite minor; and, those emotional effects of war and how it increases everyone's concerns for and thoughts of family.

It's that prologue that starts the main theme, and it hung with me, every word. A beautiful description of a worried lad who won't be coming home, and the only time we're not hearing from Maisie's third person simple subjective point-of-view. Maisie also pushes lots of good advice about acceptance and acknowledgement of the dreams of others. She does seem to be more accepting of James' choices in life.

I know it's not only wartime when parents become worried about their children, but it does increase the worries, and Winspear has quite a few examples of those worries, which make quite a bit of sense — on the sides of both parent and child. It's a child's maturation and their need for independence that is multiplied when it comes to war. Of wanting to be seen as a man equal to others.

Winspear is smooth and keeps the tension low, but it's there. Oh, yeah. It's there. I'm wondering if she has had training as a psychologist, as she's so great at describing feelings and using a person's posture to measure their concerns. Wait'll you read her description of Mrs. Digby. Almost made me want to get outside and breathe in some clear air!

There was an interesting bit about currency and the effects wartime has on it. That point about money under the bed certainly made me sit up. Winspear also explains why Britain had to ration everything during the war. I'm sure I've heard the reasons before, but for some reason, Winspear's explanation struck me. And it makes such sense. *Laughing*, I finally learn why the Flying Squad was nicknamed the Sweeney Todd, *more laughing*.

It's a different perspective on the war, and its effect on the English. I do look forward to the next Maisie Dobbs to see how that changes. For this is another reason I love this series, Winspear stays so true to the times, the clothing, the mores and customs, the everyday life, and the leading technology of the day — those fridges that are a new introduction to the English lifestyle. It makes me appreciate what we have today and marvel at the possibilities of tomorrow. Throughout there are references to apprentices, when children are considered old enough to work, being a man at 16. It's quite the reverse of how we see today's middle teens. And it seems that Maisie is getting on a bit, not noticing those little things that Billy and Sands are noticing.

And dang it. What is it with foreshadowing that you never know until afterwards!

The Story
When a neighbor's son goes missing, especially after his complaints, his father asks Maisie to look in on him. Make sure he's okay.

It becomes an investigation that goes so much deeper, uncovering fraud, shady plots, murder, spies.

And Maisie is worried what the Ministry of Health inspector will think of Maisie's application.

The Characters
Maisie Dobbs trained as a psychologist and investigator under Dr Maurice Blanche. Since then, she married James Compton, Viscount Compton, and became widowed. She continues to run her investigative agency and consults with Scotland Yard, Special Branch, and MI5. Brenda was the former housekeeper who married Frankie Dobbs, Maisie's father. And he disapproves of Maisie's growing attachment to Anna.

Lord Julian and Lady Rowena Compton are Maisie's in-laws. Lord Julian has lots of connections in government and on the boards of a number of business, including banking. He'll be elected leader of the Local Defense Volunteers unit, later known as the Home Guard. Simmonds is the butler. They have Canadian officers billeted in their house.

Anna is the little girl, a sensitive, from In This Grave Hour , 13, who was evacuated to the Dower House, Maisie's home in the country and on the Compton estate, Chelstone Manor, near Tunbridge Wells. Dr Stringer is caring for Anna who's come down with the measles. Emma, a giant Alastian, is attached to Anna while Jook, as much as he loves Frankie, spends a lot of time with Anna. Lady is Anna's white pony. Supposedly, Marco, a seaman from Malta, is Anna's father.

Billy Beale has suffered his share of problems as a veteran of WWI and volunteers as an ARP man for this war. He's been Maisie's assistant for some years now. His oldest son, Billy, is with the British Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk. Sixteen-year-old Bobby, their second son, is an apprentice mechanic with his own ideas. Mrs. Relf is a London neighbor. Arthur Beale is Billy's cousin who never came home from World War I. Sandra is Maisie's part-time secretary. She's married to Lawrence Pickering, a publisher at Pickering Publishing Company, and they have a baby son, Martin.

Priscilla Partridge is a close friend from their university days who soaks her depression in alcohol; she's married to Douglas Partridge, a writer who works with the wartime Ministry of Information. Timothy, the oldest, has enlisted in the RAF. Tom can't wait to enlist. Tarquin is the youngest. Elinor is/was the boys' nanny, so beloved that the family insists she stay on, as family. She's joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, but Maisie is doubting it.

Gordon Sanderson is Tom's friend whose dad has a small fleet, including the Cassandra , at Rye. Bea Sanderson is his mother. Mick Tate is a fisherman in Rye. Mistress Molly is the saving of the Cassandra.

Phil and Sally Coombes run the Prince of Wales pub, one of Maisie's neighbors of her business office. Archie is their oldest at twenty-one; he's living on his own and is a foreman and fitter for an engineering works with too much money to account for. Vivian is the middle child who works at the telephone exchange. Their youngest, fifteen-year-old Joe, is lucky to have this painting job, as it's a reserved occupation.

Scotland Yard, Special Branch, etc.
Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell is with Scotland Yard and has come to respect Maisie. Caldwell's assistant, Francis Able, enlisted as Able Seaman Able; Able's dad is a desk sergeant in Essex. Detective Chief Inspector "Spud" Murphy in Basingstoke is no fool. Dr Clarissa Clark is the pathologist, who isn't a fool either. Nor especially humble, lol. Seems Dr Blanche was her favorite professor. Richard Stratton is back with Special Branch doing war work. Robert "Robbie" McFarlane is a liaison between Special Branch and the Secret Service; his eighteen-year-old nephew, Sandy, is at Dunkirk. Stratton used to see Maisie. Constable Sheering is with the Rye PD. Harry Bream is with the Flying Squad

Duff Cooper seems to be a colleague of Douglas'. He's coordinating the release of information about the evacuation of the BFE from the beach at Dunkirk.

Yates and Sons are…
…a painting and decorating firm that got a lucrative government contract. Bill Yates is the father; Mike is the son who pushes (and gets) good contracts. Freddie Mayes is the foreman on Joe's painting team; Len is the bigger of the painters; and, Sidney Spooner is a driver with a previous as long as his arm. Charlotte Bright can't wait to leave her job working for that nasty Mike and join the ATS. Her father is a sergeant at the Carter Street police station.

Jimmy Robertson is a criminal with his fingers in a lot of pies. Barney Coleman had been one of his "tea boys", Jimmy's cousin, and now holding up the Rotherhithe Docks. Doris and Sally are his sisters.

Whitchurch, Hampshire, is…
…at the center of the action and where Doreen and Margaret Rose (Billy Beale's wife and daughter) are staying with Aunt Millicent in one of the tied cottages on Keep's farm. Mrs. Keep runs a B&B.

The last place Joe lodged was…
…near Whitchurch. Mrs. Digby is the landlady who thinks quite a lot of herself…and that Sid Watkins with his eyes and hands. Leading Aircraftswoman Sylvia Preston, a WAAF, is one of the lodgers with a conscience, and it applies to her current job as a driver as well!

Phineas "Finny" Hutchins owns Moorwood Farm over in Whitchurch and became very friendly with Joe. He raises sheepdogs, including Odin and Loki with Freya as the mum. Magni is the name Joe chose for his pup. Joseph Hutchins was the son who died at 19 in World War I.

Airfields in Hampshire
Captain Michaels is at Andover. Hurstbourne Tarrant is a decoy. Flight Lieutenant Cobb and Sergeant Packham are at the same airfield as Corporal Teddy Wickham, who is Archie's best friend, and whom the Coombes family has known forever.

Dr Andrew Dene ( Pardonable Lies , 3) is now a renowned orthopedic surgeon at the hospital in Hastings and a professor of orthopedic medicine in London. Maisie once dated him, and now they're friends. He's married with children. Walter Miles is a new tenant at Maisie's office building. And he has the most marvelous green thumb. Well, he is a botanist and lectures over at Bedford College.

Jack Barker is still selling papers outside Maisie's office. His grandson, Peter, is now in the army. Jim Turner owns Turner's Farm and has his evacuees slaving away on his farm. Peter Sands is Billy's painting and decorating friend who keeps Maisie and company supplied with wallpaper ends. Mr Roache runs the special ambulance driver practice that Maisie and Priscilla are supposed to be attending. Bernard Klein is Maisie's lawyer; Anthony is his clerk. Dr Elsbeth Masters is the psychiatrist Doreen has seen in the past.

The Cover and Title
The cover is the expected woodcut style (I do love it) with Maisie standing in the shadow of a plane's wing in a silhouetted profile, her back to us, and wearing a trim and neatly fitted suit and a cloche. She's holding some papers to her chest tightly as she watches a pilot clamber into his military plane on a grassy lawn. The background is a beautiful late spring sky with big billowing clouds rising up from the ground and another plane high in the sky. Text begins with an info blurb in yellow at the very top with the author's name below that in a deep orange and a much smaller title in yellow below that. The series information (thank you!) is black and centered in a cloud.

I'm wondering if the title is about everyone, for war causes those involved, with family and friends endangered, to die in their hearts for every loss. What wouldn't they give To Die But Once.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,730 reviews753 followers
May 6, 2018
I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. This is book fourteen in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie was a nurse in World War One; then trained to be a psychologist/investigator after the war. The story opens in May 1940. Great Britain is again at war with Germany. Maisie has been hired to investigate the disappearance of a fifteen-year-old boy, Joseph Combes. He is an apprentice painter working for a company that has a government contract to go about the countryside to paint a special fire-retardant chemical on strategic government and military buildings.

The book is well written and researched. The author has the story set with a background of Dunkirk and the battle of Britain. This is a great historical novel. The plot twist and turns around family drama. I have read that Winspear bases a lot of the plot on her own family’s experiences. If you enjoy historical novels this book would provide you great enjoyment.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is ten and a half hours. Orlagh Cassidy does a superb job narrating the book. Cassidy is one of my favorite narrators. Cassidy is an actress, voice over artist and award-winning audiobook narrator.
Profile Image for Julie.
2,015 reviews38 followers
January 1, 2019
I loved how the author took us up close and personal with how war affected the every day lives of ordinary people. Life was not easy for those waiting on the home front, dreading the news of the death of a loved one and living in fear of enemy invasion. Habits of daily living changed with rationing of petrol (gasoline), then food, which made travel and feeding families truly challenging. My husband reminded me that rationing lasted well after WWII ended in 1945, in fact it was not until 1954 that all rationing ended in England.

The author brings to light the criminal opportunities of wartime, such as the Black Market of rationed goods and nepotism in gaining government contracts, attaining reserved occupation status, and dangerously manipulating products to maximize their profits.

As well as providing us with a glimpse into life at home during wartime, the author also provides us with characters we come to know and care for. I love how the main characters have grown and developed over the series and look forward to the next installment.
Profile Image for The Library Lady.
3,651 reviews538 followers
February 12, 2018
I like Maisie immensely more in this period of her life than I did in the earliest books, but there is a bit too much going on in the plot here. The central mystery gets buried in other plot lines and there is a final twist (not related to the central mystery) that brings in another plot line that doesn't really relate to the rest of the book. But it's a fascinating period in British history, and Winspear bases a lot of the plot on her own family's experiences, so the details ring true. This needed a better editor, but her fans won't care.
Profile Image for Peggy.
370 reviews
February 9, 2018
Happily, I received an uncorrected proof of To Die but Once as a Goodreads Giveaway. Even better, I found it be an excellent entry in one of my very favorite series. Set in the spring of 1940, while the public slowly learns the news about British troops trapped in France, less noble acts than sailing to Dunkirk are taking place. War is full of tragedy, including on the home front, where greed and callousness have tragic consequences. There is a heartbreaking thread throughout the book - the children of those who survived the Great War are going off to fight the next one. And while Maisie sorts out her case, she needs to sort out the next chapter in her own life. I wish her all the best!
Profile Image for Ann.
1,554 reviews
April 18, 2018
I love this series, the growth of Maisie's character is a draw and the variety of her cases. Set against the backdrop of war, WWI in the early books and now WWII, wartime in Great Britain, shadowed in the minds of the characters, adds to the depth.
Maisie's character has faced much opposition throughout the series. As a child, facing economic and class challenges; in business as a female, and as a woman in a male dominated profession. Her intelligence and drive, support from friends and mentors, and the opportunities opened to women in wartime have contributed and shaped her character.
We've seen Maisie worn down by grief, doors slammed in her face, and rising above it all for a majority of the time. There are more challenges ahead. It feels like Maisie represents all of us.
Profile Image for Beth.
383 reviews8 followers
May 31, 2018
This series is one of my top 5 favorites. This one didn’t disappoint. It was an especially edgy read this time because both Billy’s and Priscilla’s sons are in jeopardy against the background of the battle of Dunkirk. And especially edgy because, as we know to our sorrow, Winspear does not hesitate to kill off anyone, even beloved characters if it furthers her story. But, boy, this one was terrific and the historic detail is fascinating. I’m starting to think, sadly, that people of this era were a lot tougher—and considerably more honorable—than they are now. Sorry, it’s the age of Trump, I guess, and my faith in people isn’t what it used to be.
555 reviews21 followers
January 31, 2018
These books are my guilty pleasure! Found this very interesting because it included a Dunkirk story.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
3,182 reviews31 followers
April 17, 2018
Well, she did it again. The book is so well done; full of lots of history, new and old characters and of course Maisie. I'm trying to figure out how old she is now. In her 40s I think. It's just a great story and I shall miss her until the next book.
Profile Image for Dorothy.
1,358 reviews94 followers
February 22, 2019
We first met Maisie Dobbs in the years before World War I when she was a young girl who had lost her mother and was being raised by her father. Her father found a position for her as a maid to an aristocratic family. That benevolent family took an interest in the young girl and helped to educate her. Her relationship with the family was the making of her. It was through them that she became the person that she was as an adult, and eventually, she married the son of the family and emigrated to Canada. But tragedy followed her. Her husband was killed and she returned to England.

In this latest installment, we have progressed all the way to the beginnings of World War II. It is 1940 and England is on edge. It has not been attacked directly yet, but an attack is expected imminently. Meanwhile, their forces in Europe are being pushed back to the sea. The Dunkirk rescue looms.

Maisie is still pursuing her profession as an investigator and psychologist, ably assisted by her longtime right-hand man Billy Beale.

A local pub owner asks Maisie's help in finding out what has happened to his son. The young man had taken a job with a painting firm that had a government contract to paint various government buildings with fire retardant paint. He was away in Kent doing this work and had been in contact with his family on a regular basis but now has missed calling them for a couple of weeks and the parents are worried. Maisie agrees to investigate.

Meantime, Billy is worried about his older son who is with the forces in Europe and his younger son who is chafing at the bit to get involved in the war effort. And Maisie's friend Priscilla is terrified of losing her three sons in the war as she lost her three brothers in the First World War. Her oldest is in the RAF; the middle son wants to join the military but is too young without the parents' permission; the youngest is not yet old enough but if the war continues for years, he, too, will want to be involved.

To further complicate the book's plot, Maisie has decided that she wants to adopt Anna, the young girl that she took in as an evacuee along with her grandmother. The grandmother had subsequently died and left Maisie as the child's guardian. Now she wants to become her mother, but the authorities are reluctant to allow a single mother (widow) to adopt.

And it's all just too much. Yes, I do realize that in real life all of these things do happen simultaneously, but in a work of literature, I think it is helpful to have the focus on one or perhaps at most two events. Winspear is asking us to focus on and care about all of these different occurrences. She rushes from one storyline to another and the various stories lose some of their emotional impact in the process.

As always, Winspear does an excellent job of setting the historic scene. One can feel the fear and uncertainty experienced by those who lived through these perilous times. For those of us who take for granted our ability to travel and to communicate and stay linked to friends and family far away, Winspear helps us to feel what it was like not so very long ago when those things were not possible.

And that is why I keep reading these books - for the historical perspective which they provide of the daily lives of ordinary people. It's there that Winspear really shines.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 30 books415 followers
July 24, 2018
In the spring of 1940, World War II had been underway in Europe for more than half a year, but the violence had yet to come home to England. Suddenly, on May 10, Hitler's legions rumbled across the borders of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and, finally, France. The 300,000-man British Expeditionary Force had been deployed on the Continent to support the French Army. Now, it found itself steadily pushed into a tighter and tighter space along the coast around the French port of Dunkerque (Dunkirk).

In the Battle of Dunkirk, the English people finally came to confront the terror of modern war. During ten days in late May and early June, German armies savaged retreating English and French troops and Stuka dive-bombers pounded ships sent to evacuate them. When the Admiralty confessed its inability to save the troops, newly installed Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued an open call for all British seagoing vessels to join the effort. The result was "the Miracle of Dunkirk" depicted in the popular 2017 film, Dunkirk.

On the home front, children have been evacuated from London to the countryside. In the "Phony War" that preceded the Nazi attack on the Low Countries, many families had begun to bring their children back to the city. Now, with British troops on the verge of annihilation on the Continent, a German invasion appears imminent, and that is changing. All the earmarks of home defense have sprung up: blackout curtains, barrage balloons, observation posts all along the coast, gasoline rationing, and "reserved professions" vital to feeding the people and, as the saying went, "keeping the home fires burning."

This is the background against which Jacqueline Winspear's fourteenth Maisie Dobbs novel is set. To Die But Once begins just days before the Battle of Dunkirk. Maisie's practice as a "psychologist and investigator" has slowed, freeing her up to look into the disappearance of the teenage son of the couple who run the local pub. The young man had been sent to rural Hampshire as an apprentice to a painting crew working on a contract for the Royal Air Force. Maisie's investigation confronts her and Billy Beale, her assistant, with a notorious gangster, war profiteers, and a plan to rob the Bank of England. Winspear tells the tale with her customary deep understanding of human behavior and her respect for historical accuracy. As she reveals in the Acknowledgments, the book was inspired by her late father, a young apprentice in a painting crew during the war.
Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,587 reviews67 followers
January 27, 2022
Oh my! Tears in my eyes at parts of this one. A young boy/man dies and Maisie is asked by his family to investigate. That leads to various aspects of the war effort, to the black market, and along the way Dunkirk. Maisie has a huge amount on her plate, but once again Winspear draws the loose ends together for an exciting read and further developments in the lives of our favourite characters that revolve around Maisie.
Profile Image for Lorna.
721 reviews419 followers
October 1, 2023
To Die but Once is the fourteenth novel in the Maisie Dobbs series this set during the several months after Britain's declaration of war against Germany. It is during this time that it is becoming known the depth of the losses as news of the thousands of soldiers stranded on the beaches of France, the threat of an invasion rises to alarming levels. Maisie Dobbs is investigating the disappearance of a young apprentice painter working for a company with an exclusive and secret government contract. As her investigation deepens, Maisie Dobbs goes from the rural Hampshire countryside to the London underworld as explores threads that point to wartime opportunism by the powerful in the exploitation of the link between money and war. Again working closely with Scotland Yard, Maisie must make some hard decisions in order to protect the lives and well-being those she cares about. Priscilla and her sons are an important part of this book as well as her investigator Billy Beale and her assistant Sandra with beautiful character development and historical accuracy.

Jacqueline Winspear writes so effortlessly about the dilemmas encountered during wartime and the human toll that is exacted in its myriad forms. It is in the Acknowledgements that Winspear credits this story to the experience of her father as a young man, knowing that one day it would make its way into a book. Winspear explores the wealth of stories in her large extended family always providing a source of a story. And in her words:

"In our very large extended family, almost all theaters of the Second World War were experienced by at least one of uncles or aunts, or my parents--from Dunkirk to the Battle of Britain, the war in France, Italy, Asia, the African desert, D-day, the Blitz, and in Germany, plus of course the dark side of childhood evacuation--thus the stories that were retold during my childhood, along with those of my grandparents and their lives during the First World War continue to inspire my writing."
Profile Image for Charlene.
914 reviews81 followers
April 2, 2018
One of the best in the series and I've read them all, so far. It's spring, 1940. There's several stories running here; the mystery concerns the disappearance of Joe, the young painting apprentice? He's been working on a crew painting RAF buildings with a fire retardant that gives him headaches and seems to be causing a personality change. Then there's the WWII story . . . Maisie and friend Priscilla are training as rescue ambulance workers, there's rumors that the British Expeditionary Force is in trouble in France and then there's Dunkirk. Maisie has her young ward, Anna, safe in the country but we see the worries of those still in London and those who have left.
I enjoyed the author's acknowledgments, too, where she gives credit to her dad for inspiring the story; he was a fourteen year apprentice doing his part as a government painter also, and to her extended family who were in all theaters of the war & shared stories. And her own WWI family story is always the background, too . . . of how the horror of war damages lives for decades after treaties are signed.
Profile Image for Suzy.
793 reviews262 followers
January 18, 2019
It's always great to spend some time with one of my favorite private investigators. I met Maisie Dobbs right after she returned from being a nurse in France during WWI to London and set up shop as a private investigator and psychologist. In this 14th installment in the series, we are at the beginning of WWII. Britain is preparing for a possible German invasion and part of this preparation is to paint all military buildings with a fire retardant paint in case of attack. When a young painting apprentice dies after complaining of severe headaches, Maisie and her longtime assistant, Billy, get involved in trying to find out what happened. Was is "death by misadventure" as the medical examiner is encouraged to proclaim or is it something more sinister?

The cast of characters we have come to know and love throughout this series are all present and accounted for in To Die But Once. A few additional story threads related to some of these characters and the war keep things interesting. As always, events in the Maisie Dobbs series are based on fact and family history, impeccably researched by Winspear. In this case her father was involved in painting military buildings with fire retardant which made this story all that more vivid and poignant.

The good news? Book 15 The American Agent is due out the end of March!

Why I'm reading this: Catching up on a favorite series.
May 23, 2019
It was Spring 1940. During the months following Britain's declaration of war on Germany, as far as the population is concerned, nothing much seems to have happened. Despite the sandbagging of underground stations and public buildings, constant government reminders to carry gas masks at all times, and the barrage balloons bobbing overhead, the newspapers are calling it the "Bore War," and mothers have started bringing children who evacuated to the country back home.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, Maisie Dobbs investigates the disappearance of a young apprentice working on a hush-hush government contract. As news of the plight of thousands of soldiers stranded of the beaches of France is gradually revealed to the general public, and as the threat of invasion increases, another young man beloved by Maisie makes a terrible decision that will change his life forever.

Maisie's investigation leads her from the countryside of rural Hampshire to the web of wartime oopportunism exploited by one of the London underworld's most powerful men, in a case that serves as a reminder of the inextricable link between money and war. Yet when a final case that serves, she must acknowledge the potential cost to her future--and the risk of destroying a dream she wants very much to become reality.

"In addition to providing a very good mystery, Wnspear does a smashing job describing the bravery exhiibited by everyday Britons as the fear of invasion becomes ever more real."--Kirkus Reviews
Profile Image for Carol Douglas.
Author 11 books94 followers
July 4, 2018
Jacqueline Winspear's books about England facing and recovering from its 20th century wars are always good, but this is one of the best.

To Die but Once takes us to the early years after England's entry into World War II. British soldiers are fighting on the Continent. Hitler's forces are pinning them down.

At home, a boy from Maisie Dobbs' neighborhood has gone to work for a defense contractor, painting military buildings with fire retardant. The boy is murdered.

Maisie's investigation looks at the seamy side of defense contracting. It's based on things that actually happened in England in that period.

Then comes the evacuation of Dunkirk. A boy who is like a nephew to Maisie runs off to participate.

The book is full of action and compassion. Winspear's books educate us about England's suffering in war.
April 4, 2018
While I enjoyed reading about the latest happenings in Maisie’s life, I felt that the plot was not as tightly drawn as in previous books in the series. As other reviewers have noted, the initial “mystery” seems to get lost among other plot lines. Even some of the characters are a bit faceless, including the main villain. As always, however, Winspear’s insights into the historical context were fascinating.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,897 reviews34 followers
July 18, 2022
These stories are so well written you are taken back in time. Maisie is such an interesting and complex character. I enjoy how everything weaves together.
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,608 reviews47 followers
May 22, 2018
This series is a comfort to read. Even major drama and disaster are calmly presented. The Dunkirk evacuation is one of the main story lines in this book, but I did feel this book is just a prep for the real shit to hit the fan in the Battle of Britain.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,460 reviews28 followers
April 19, 2018
While the author deftly sets the scene in the early days of World War II, the many plot lines, events, and large cast of characters overwhelm the emotional impact of the story by constantly hurrying the reader along from storyline to storyline. Still a must read for anyone who enjoys this series and the continuing characters.
Profile Image for Andie.
848 reviews7 followers
May 15, 2019
This is the 15th book in the Maisie Dobbs detective series and, after faltering for a couple of books, Maisie seems to be back in true form. World War II has begun and Germany has just started its offensive that will lead to the fall of France. Maisie has been asked by the local publican to discover what has happened to his youngest son who has been apprenticed to a painting contractor charged with painting air bases with flame retardant paint. The young man is dead, supposedly fallen from a railway viaduct. But did he really fall? Or was he pushed or thrown?

Meanwhile, Tim, the middle son of Maisie's best friend, Priscilla, takes it into his head to go off with his best friend and rescue the troops at Dunkirk; and Maisie is trying to adopt the young war orphan, Anna; and did we mention the German spy in the basement of Maisie's office building?

No, it really isn't a mess. The threads of the various plots are deftly woven together, along with, I suspect, the teaser for the next book. We're glad that Ms. Winspear is out of whatever funk she had been in, and that Maisie is back in fine form. We're going to need her to win World War II!
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