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Maisie Dobbs #8

A Lesson in Secrets

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In the summer of 1932, Maisie Dobbs’s career takes an exciting new turn when she accepts an undercover assignment directed by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. Posing as a junior lecturer, she is sent to a private college in Cambridge to monitor any activities, “not in the interests of His Majesty’s Government.”
When the college’s controversial pacifist founder and principal, Greville Liddicote, is murdered, Maisie is directed to stand back as Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane and Detective Chief Inspector Richard Stratton spearhead the investigation. She soon discovers, however, that the circumstances of Liddicote’s death appear inextricably linked to the suspicious comings and goings of faculty and students under her surveillance.
To unravel this web, Maisie must overcome a reluctant Secret Service, discover shameful hidden truths about Britain’s conduct during the Great War, and face off against the rising powers of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—the Nazi Party—in Britain.
As the storm clouds of World War II gather on the horizon, this pivotal chapter in the life of Maisie Dobbs foreshadows new challenges and powerful enemies facing the psychologist and investigator.

321 pages, Hardcover

First published March 22, 2011

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About the author

Jacqueline Winspear

53 books6,964 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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,877 reviews
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,222 reviews2,052 followers
November 23, 2016
Number eight in the Maisie Dobbs series.
I think I liked this one the best in the series so far. I really enjoy all the historical facts about England in the period between the two World Wars and I love following Maisie to places in London and its surrounds which I know quite well.
The mystery was handled well and I did not guess the culprit until quite late in the piece. Maisie herself is in a good place - her assistance being sought by a certain Government agency shows she is well regarded which is an accomplishment for a woman in those times! Her love life is as rocky as usual and I do not actually have high hopes for the current union. Maybe I will be proved wrong:)
A thoroughly enjoyable outing with Miss Dobbs and I look forward to reading the next one very soon.
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
October 14, 2011
Rating Clarification: 2.5 Stars

Disappointing installment in the Maisie Dobbs series. Certainly, this one had the potential to be a real turning point in the series, as Maisie (and Great Britain in general) move further away from the Great War and now feel the first ominous rumblings of Hitler's rise to power.

I had begun to enjoy these books again after the last two in the series (Among the Mad and The Mapping of Love and Death), both of which were extremely entertaining reads and developed Maisie and Billy's characters very nicely. Somehow, this offering left me feeling like the series has taken 2 steps back regarding character arc. I didn't really get a good sense that Maisie or Billy had advanced since the monumental changes in the last book. Something was *off*. IMO, Winspear just phoned this in, and it didn't have the same feel as I've encountered in her previous books. Some of my concerns are addressed in the following spoiler, so read at your own risk: .

Regarding the plotline of this book, it also didn't engage me like the others have. I guess I'm just not the type that enjoys reading about the academic environment. It was dull and uninteresting to me. The murder and its solving also left me uninterested, and I had a hard time buying into why it was committed and the motivations of the suspects. Really, the book could be summed up as "meh".

All in all, this one wasn't a good follow up to her last two books, but I have every intention of continuing on with this series. It seems to be one of those, for me, that has it's ups and downs.

Profile Image for Judith Starkston.
Author 10 books120 followers
March 25, 2011
Jacqueline Winspear fans won’t need any prodding to read her latest Maisie Dobbs mystery, A Lesson in Secrets. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves. This is her eighth book in the series, and by now you should have been gobbling up these first-rate novels set in the years following World War I.

Maisie’s character makes for uncommonly good reading. Winspear avoids all the simplistic, predictable versions of independent female sleuth that have proliferated over the years. She has described how, in her childhood, she observed her grandfather who was gassed and wounded with shrapnel in the Great War and her grandmother who was injured in a munitions factory explosion. She had questions that got only partial answers—this was not the generation to talk about their war experiences. She noticed the remarkable women in her neighborhood who had built lives without husbands or children because so many of the men in their generation had been killed. Maisie Dobbs appears to have had a long, sensitive birthing in Winspear’s fertile imagination, although she describes first “seeing” Maisie almost fully understood in a flash while driving one day, which she calls her moment of writer’s grace. All her characters, not only Miss Dobbs herself, will reach into you in ways that go well beyond the usual mystery novel.

In A Lesson in Secrets, Maisie takes a new direction professionally, working undercover for the Secret Service. As her mentor Maurice had written to her, “I have observed your work in recent years, and it does not claim the full measure of your skill or intellect.” Never comfortable without a challenge, Maisie chooses the “new path” Maurice had hinted at. Her love life also takes some mysterious turns, which is not surprising for someone who is as suspicious of the possibility of “happily ever after” as Maisie is.

While her assignment from SIS involves monitoring activities in a Cambridge college “not in the interests of the Crown” rather than hunting down murderers, she still manages to find a dead body. As she discovers, there are a number of people who might have been willing to kill this man with a complicated, hidden past. A Lesson in Secrets, set in 1932, depicts the conflicting political currents of the years leading up to World War II. Maisie and the Secret Service do not see eye to eye about who the true threats to the Crown will prove to be. Not only is this assignment part of a fascinating spider web reaching across Europe, but clearly we have more to come. I can’t wait, but of course, now that I’ve read A Lesson in Secrets, I will wait patiently for one more year. Thank goodness Jacqueline Winspear writes a book a year!
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,760 reviews1,218 followers
March 29, 2021
A lot has changed in Maisie’s life and the reader knows it will after reading the end of the previous book in the series.

I enjoyed Maisie’s new role and the various other changes as they help keep the series feeling fresh.

I also loved so much of what was going on with other main characters and liked meeting the many new, most temporary I think, characters in this book.

I loved this book and the last book so much. The next book doesn’t look as good to me but I hope that I’m wrong about that and I’ll enjoy it just as much as the others or at least enjoy it.

WWI is still one of the topics but WWII is definitely on the horizon. I believe I’ll prefer that and also hope to read more storylines not directly associated with any war.

As usual I enjoy the English settings of London and County Kent and there was also a bit of Cambridge and other areas in this story. I love the settings and the history and the mystery but mostly I love the characters.
Profile Image for Melissa Lenhardt.
Author 11 books445 followers
August 20, 2012
I’m not sure how or when I first discovered the Maise Dobbs series. I think I happened upon the first book, Maisie Dobbs, at the library. Intrigued by the setting – England between the wars – I picked it up and immediately liked the character. It was an interesting mystery novel in that a large portion of it was a flashback to the character’s past. I can’t even remember her first case, truth be told. It was Maisie and her personal story that kept me interested. Since then, I have waited anxiously for the release of each book. Fans of the series are blessed that Winspear seems consistently capable of publishing a book per year. Each year, I read the book immediately and am always a bit let down at the end because I know that there is another year to wait for the next chapter in Maisie’s story.

Maisie’s story…that is what keeps me coming back. While I enjoy the mysteries and am especially pleased that each mystery reveals a bit of British history as it relates to World War I – most often events in the War that show the Crown and people in power in a less than favorable light – I do feel this aspect of the era is tapped out. At this point in the series it is fall 1932, 14 years since the Armistice, and that people are still holding on to the grudges and ills of the past seems more of storytelling crutch than a necessity. Maisie says, at least once a book, that she was a nurse in the war. Her friend, Priscilla, always gets teary eyed and worried when looking at her three sons, named after her three brothers lost in the war. Maisie’s loyal sidekick’s, Billy Beale, skills running communication wire during the war always comes in handy in some way. I understand, on one level, the need to give some historical character details for those new to the series, but there comes a point in real life where constant reference to “back in the day” becomes annoying. Unfortunately, that time has come for the Maisie Dobbs series.

Maybe Winspear has realized this. In A Lesson in Secrets, Maisie goes undercover for the Secret Police (a job she has fallen into because of her late mentor’s spy past and her body of work as a respected private inquiry agent) to a small college in Cambridge. The goal of this college, St Francis, is to foster peace by bringing in students from across the world together in the hopes that they will return to their homeland and become advocates for peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. Of course, the British government thinks something shady is going on. It is Maisie’s job to find out just what. While she is there as a lecturer in Philosophy, the college’s founder is murdered. The story, from that point, has it’s feet in two different eras – the war of the past, which relates to the college founder’s murder, and the war of the future as Maisie uncovers what is a universal truth, no matter the era – young people are especially gullible to bombastic political rhetoric. In this case, during this time, the rhetoric is fascism.

Because the Maisie Dobbs series is so character driven, each mystery has somehow enabled Maisie to grow, to let go bit by bit the scars that World War I left on her (as a nurse in the war, natch). As I said earlier, it is the character that keeps me coming back to these books. Watching her grow, while learning a bit about hidden British history, has been a treat. However, the mystery in A Lesson in Secrets seems to be there because that’s the formula Winspear has created. It doesn’t, in any way, move Maisie as a character forward. In fact, an aspect of it (mutiny and desertion on the front lines) was covered fully, and much more deftly, in a previous book. In short, it is the least engaging portion of the novel. Which is a major problem because Maisie spends most of her time trying to solve that murder instead of focusing on her secret agent job of uncovering the nefarious doings of easily manipulated young people.
Though I’m sure the British would like to wipe this stain from their history, it is a fact that many, many British were sympathetic to Hitler’s ideas when he first came on the scene. The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward, was a supporter of Hitler. If he had not abdicated the throne for the American divorcee Mrs. Wallis Simpson, we would have a very different world today. Hitler and his brand of fascism was not seen as a threat to the Crown, some thought of it as a solution to their problems. The Crown was more worried with the Red Menace in Russia and were willing to hand wave the less palatable aspects of Hitler’ ideology. So, when Maisie goes to her Secret Service boss and tells him that there is evidence of fascism at St. Francis and not communism, he dismisses her concerns.

I’m sure it is very difficult for a 21st century author to write about that time – the rise of fascism – with the ignorance required to make it believable. The problem is we know their future. We know that England will change its tune when Hitler marches across Europe. We know that Hitler will kill millions of Jews in concentration camps. We know that those children in 1932 will be going off to war in 1939. It is difficult to write believable ignorant characters when such knowledge is almost part of our DNA. For a few books now, Maisie and her mentor, Maurice, have dropped little hints of concerns about people like Oswald Mosely and “what’s happening in Europe.” Their opinions, about almost everything, seem a bit too on the nose.

Which brings me to a concern I have harbored for Maisie for a few books now. She is turning into a Mary Sue. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a definition:

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fan fiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader.

In fan fiction, Mary Sues are usually author inserts – a character that is a thinly veiled avatar for the writer. While I don’t think that is the case with Maisie and Winspear, I do think that Maisie suffers from “idealized and hackneyed mannerisms and is lacking in noteworthy flaws.” Maisie always solves the case, knows the right thing to say and when, gets people to open up to her with little to no effort, investigates rings around the police, helps out her friends when they’re in need, is always compassionate to those that deserve it and holds negative opinions about no one in particular, except maybe men that avoided serving in the war, the government for not doing all they can for veterans and now has a wary eye on fascists. But, those people deserve to be disliked, don’t they? Her biggest flaw, as far as I can tell, is that she is emotionally closed off and is slow to open herself up to other people. She hides behind an overly professional, proper demeanor. She did make some progress in this book, however. She called men that she has known and worked with for years by their Christian names instead of their tongue twisting titles. It’s only taken seven books.

I’m sure it sounds as if I didn’t like the book and I have grown tired of the character of Maisie. On the contrary, I did like the book (but didn’t love it) and I like Maisie immensely. But, I think it’s time for Winspear to deviate from her formula. When her mysteries stop directly affecting Maisie, they can no longer hold the book up. I spent the majority of A Lesson in Secrets skimming the mystery for more information about Maisie’s personal life. That is a major problem for a mystery novel, especially when the tidbits about her personal life are fleeting and rather shallow. But, more on that later.

I would like to see Winspear deviate completely for a book and maybe do an homage to Agatha Christie with a murder at a grand estate. Now that Maisie is in a relationship with a Viscount, it would be easy to put her in that situation. Make it even more interesting by setting it at her friend, Priscilla’s, house in France and have a Hercule Poirot type character that Maisie is competing with to solve the manor murder. Better still – have Maisie lose out on the unacknowledged competition and not solve the murder first.

Maisie Dobbs is the only mystery series that I follow because I’ve always believed that long, drawn-out series sacrifice character growth for the formula. The story should serve the character, not the character serving the story. I had never felt that about Maisie, until this book. I felt a germ of dissatisfaction with the last book, The Mapping of Love and Death, with the sudden romance between Maisie and a thinly drawn character that has, however, been around from the beginning, James Compton. He spent the majority (read: all) of the first six books in Canada, with a one line mention here and there. He appears in book seven and, after a few chance encounters with Maisie, they start dating. In A Lesson in Secrets, they’re involved in a full on affair. But, Winspear spends too little time on the relationship and it feels shallow and rushed as a result. Compton as a character and the relationship as a sub-plot are so underdeveloped that it is difficult to feel or even understand Maisie’s happiness. This book would have been a perfect opportunity for Winspear to develop Maisie’s personal life. Instead, she has Compton in Canada for 3/4 of the book and Maisie worried, for a few paragraphs sprinkled over a couple hundred pages, if James is really in Canada or in London without telling her. Honestly, why would we care one way or the other? Winspear hasn’t taken the time to show the two together. We think Maisie is happy because she should be happy, not because we’ve been shown her happiness in any detail.

I will confess that part of my dissatisfaction with Maisie and Compton stems from the fact that there is another character that has been around for quite a while, has been more fully developed (but, honestly, only slightly) and seems much more suited to Maisie. Winspear has dropped enough hints about the two throughout the series that I believe Richard Stratton is the man Maisie will eventually fall in love with. But, here’s the thing: I don’t think I have the patience to wait. It has taken Winspear eight books to cover three years of Maisie’s life. At that rate, and with Winspear publishing a book a year, it will take 16 years to get to Germany invading Poland, and 17 or 18 to the Battle of Britain. If Compton breaks her heart, or (my prediction) she dumps him because he will want her to quit her career and dedicate her life fully to being the wife of a Viscount and future Lord , it might take Maisie three or four years to get the courage to even go out on a date. That is 8-10 publishing years, right there. Then there’s the fact that, at the end of A Lesson in Secrets, Stratton resigns from Scotland Yard as a detective and is off to Essex as a math/physics teacher in a boarding school. Seriously? Really? I’m sorry. I’m just not that patient.

I can hear my detractors now: “If you’re just in it for the relationship then you don’t truly appreciate the series. It is a mystery first and foremost.” To that I disagree. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot novels were first and foremost mystery series. There is no character development in her investigators at all, and very little background given. Maisie Dobbs is primarily a character study. Maisie, in fact, stands in for all of England and the changes in society that were wrought by the Great War – the entrance of women into the workforce in professional capacity (Maisie as a successful woman in a man’s profession), the breakdown of the class system (Maisie having a relationship with a man that is well above her in class) and the loosening of rigid Victorian/Edwardian morals (as evidenced by the sexual nature of her affair with Compton. I do give Winspear full credit for giving Maisie a sex life and not making her a spinster, another reality of post-war Britain.). But, this has all been a long time coming. As a faithful reader and one that recommends these books to others, I have a right to be somewhat dissatisfied with the snail’s pace of character growth that Winspear has created.

Am I looking forward to the next book? Yes. Will I buy it and read it immediately on release? Most likely. Do I have high hopes that Winspear will deviate from her formula? Yes. Do I think she will? No. I respect that Maisie is Winspear’s character and she has the right to do with her as she likes. I also have the right to stop reading if I lose interest and, unfortunately, I’m perilously close.
Profile Image for Deb .
1,542 reviews17 followers
April 21, 2011
I love the Maisie Dobbs series and I looked forward to this newest installment. Maisie is recruited by the British intelligence to go undercover as a philosophy lecturer at a "peace" college at Cambridge. It's 1932 and there is a growing fascination with Hitler's rhetoric. Maisie's brief is to find out whether any of the "peace" activities are damaging to the Crown. On the home front, Billy's wife is expecting a fourth child, James Compton seems to be less than truthful, and Sandra, a former Compton servant has been arrested for breaking and entering.

One of the appeals of these novels for me has been Maisie's studied, reflective manner. Another appeal has been the way the author manages to evoke the time period in which the novel is set. For some reason, this novel seemed to plod much too slowly for me. I kept waiting for the story to happen. In some ways I felt this book was a place-keeper - something to mark the inexorable march towards war, but not go too far. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I read it, and I will continue to read this series, but this particular installment, just didn't wow me.
Profile Image for Laura.
746 reviews269 followers
July 9, 2022
3.5 stars. I’m enjoying this series more as it progresses. I almost didn’t care at all about the mystery in this one, though. I read this mainly to check in with a slew of favorite characters. Orlagh Cassidy does the audio for I believe every book in this series, and does them beautifully. I’ve already started the ninth book! Lisa, I want to thank you again for recommending this series to me. It’s a comfort read and we could all use more of those. ❤️
Profile Image for Lorna.
680 reviews368 followers
August 12, 2022
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear was the eighth in the Maisie Dobbs series that has just burrowed into my heart as we see the growth of Maisie over the years as she jauntily motors around England in her crimson MG 14/40. As the story evolves it is 1932 and Maisie is offered an undercover assignment with the esteemed Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the Secret Service. Ms. Dobbs is sent to a private college in Cambridge where she is a junior lecturer in philosophy. This is a time in the country and the continent where there is unrest as they witness the rise of the Nazi party in Britain and the rise of Adolf Hitler with the looming possibility of another world war in the shadows and it is her responsibility to monitor any activities not in the interests of his Majesty's Government. While Maisie loves her return to academia and the students, in turn, love her thoughtful lectures. And at this time Ms. Dobbs also has a lot of other personal issues pressing as she adeptly juggles them as she pursues her role as investigator not only for Scotland Yard but also for the Secret Service.

"She had often thought of the early stages of an investigation as something akin to working on a tapestry; at times it was as if she were searching for loose threads so she could unpick the completed image to see what might lie underneath and how a certain play on light or color was achieved. As with a tapestry, some crimes proved to be true masterpieces of deception. And she knew from experience that when a life had been taken in an act of murder, there were few black and white places, only gray shadows in which the truth lingered--and truth sometimes held only a passing connection to fact."

At the heart of this mystery is a children's book written by Greville Liddicote that at some point is thought to be responsible for so many soldiers laying down their arms and refusing to fight; not only on the British side but also German soldiers. And as Maisie is briefed, she is informed that The College of St. Francis was founded by Liddicote on the back of donations made to him by the wealthy parents of several young men who were killed in the war, and who were his students at Cambridge all in the cause of peace. There are many references thoughout the book to St. Francis and his position on non-violence and peace. And one of my favorite passages from the Prayer of St. Francis: ". . . where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. . ." However, the founder of the college is found dead, and there is an immediate suspicion of murder as Maisie is called largely because of her nursing background in the Great War. And so she involves Scotland Yard in the investigation as the mystery escalates as the provenance of Liddicote's book is called into question as well.

"Already she knew of two people who had been touched by the book--touched enough, each in his own way, to lay down arms. One had lost his life, charged with desertion and shot at dawn; the other had risked the same outcome with a self-inflicted wound. One British, one German. How many more young men--and women--might have been moved to some action by Greville Liddicote's simple tale of children who tried to stop a war? And having read the story, how many might have chosen not to fight, brave enough to step forward in conscientious objection to the war--then borne the brutal consequences of that decision?"

In many ways, this was one of the darker books with the looming rise of Nazism on the horizon as many were sharply divided in where they stood on the beliefs of Adolf Hitler and his henchman. One of the most chilling parts of the book is when Maisie Dobbs, reading Mein Kampf has a quote that is just as applicable today: "The broad masses of the people are more amenable to the appeal of the rhetoric than to any other force."
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,395 reviews144 followers
December 15, 2014
A Lesson In Secrets is the eighth book in the Maisie Dobbs series by British-born American author, Jacqueline Winspear. After being (somewhat ineptly) followed for some ten days, psychologist and investigator, Maisie Dobbs finds herself recruited into the Secret Intelligence Service by Brian Huntley (as was hinted by her late mentor during his last days), to work a job in conjunction with Robbie MacFarlane of Scotland Yard Special Branch. Having signed the Official Secrets Act, she is to pose as a psychology lecturer at The College of St Francis whilst observing for activities that are not in the interest of the Crown. But when she has been there only a week, the Principal of the College, Greville Liddicote, a staunch pacifist, is murdered. And a little research reveals quite a few possible suspects.

While Maisie is away, Billy Beale manages the Investigations business, although he is to some degree distracted by the impending birth of his fourth child. Luckily Maisie is able to convince her reluctant employee to become her tenant in a new cottage in which she invests some of her newfound wealth. A former flatmate comes to Maisie in distress: recently widowed, and with some doubt about the accidental nature of her husband’s death, Sandra accepts a job but remains unsettled. Maisie’s relationship with James Compton encounters a few hurdles.

In this instalment, Winspear touches on conscientious objection, mutiny amongst the troops, Nazism, fraud, organised crime and protection rackets, the role of women in the resistance and a nerve disorder that sounds a lot like Multiple Sclerosis. Maisie is frustrated at the Secret Service’s focus on Communism at the expense of Fascism, and Robert Stratton makes a surprise move. A baby is born and Maisie visits Wandsworth Prison. As always, Winspear blends historical fact with fiction while her plot takes a few twists before the murderer is revealed. It will be interesting to see where the next book, Elegy for Eddie takes this resourceful heroine. Another great read.
Profile Image for Dawn Michelle.
2,331 reviews
September 10, 2018
Another excellent addition to the Maisie Dobbs series. I really enjoy this series and this one had me guessing from the very beginning. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was TOTALLY wrong. WOW. I love it when that happens!!
There was one thing I was right about and I am unsure of how Maisie didn't see this [and truly rolled my eyes at the reveal of the mystery] as she is much smarter than that; it was the only part of the book that rang untrue.

It was interesting to see how much the secret service was dismissing fascism and the approaching rise of Adolph Hitler. Maisie can see just how dangerous this all is and it was very frustrating to see just how she [and her fears about the rise of fascism] is dismissed and thought of as ridiculous. As these are Historical Fiction and therefore researched, you have to know that there were people who dismissed the insanity of Hitler and who didn't see just how their own [English] people could be permanently swayed by such a "loud-mouth". I fear that we here in America have fallen prey to the same kind of madness that is exhibited in this novel. And it both saddens and terrifies me.

A very good read; I highly recommend this series to anyone.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,271 reviews8 followers
April 14, 2019
2.75 stars

I failed to like this book in the Maisie Dobbs series. I was disappointed. I think I see a pattern in Winspear's writing that I don't care for. It appears that her method of deepening or darkening a mystery is to add characters. Characters that give absolutely nothing to the story being read. If this is her way of covertly masquerading the mystery in her storyline, I am saddened.

There was one thing that did surprise me in book. It stated that Maisie had black hair and blue eyes. That is not how I pictured her, at all.
Profile Image for Joe.
178 reviews93 followers
October 30, 2016
A Lesson in Secrets is the eighth book in a series but the first for me; so reading it already felt like uncovering a bit of a secret. The protagonist, Maisie Dobbs a highly insightful, but cagey detective who rarely let's her friends or her audience know exactly what's on her mind. She's a likable character who with a rich past; though it often felt like much of that past was re-told from the earlier seven novels.

But the secrets go deeper than the main character. This is a mystery story with murder and conspiracy and nazis. But the author pulls a bit of a switcheroo; the murder itself is fairly bland and the way the case is solved is arbitrary with some obvious red-herrings. The real mystery ends up being the life the victim (a university president and anti-war activist); which is revealed slowly over the course of the novel and builds to a worthy emotional climax.

This is also a novel that on the surface is about war and philosophy and intellectual debate (Maisie poses as a philosophy teacher and one of the climactic scenes is set at a college debate.) But the author goes out of her way to include minimal politics or philosophy. The focus of this novel is on people and the past.
Profile Image for Peggy.
Author 1 book20 followers
July 24, 2012
Though Maisie's success in love and work and her new personal wealth are well-deserved, I fear that she may become less interesting as a main character. Her appeal as a heroine was in her struggle to overcome poverty and war to become an independent working woman between the wars in 20th century London. Our talented heroine's hard work has reaped huge rewards. Still, her elevated station in life means there's a loss of tension in the plots and subplots. There is also increased alignment between Maisie's work, intelligence-gathering for the government, which decreases the level of suspense of the plot, since the stories lie close to well-known settings. I didn't like Maisie's new-found reliance on lying as a way to get information from people. And I fear for the future of her friend Priscilla's three boys. This book is like meeting a close friend who has moved away and reached a high level of career success--one wonders if the friendship will last now that her life is so different.
Profile Image for LemonLinda.
858 reviews87 followers
March 31, 2018
You simply cannot go wrong with a Maisie Dobbs book. This series by Jacqueline Winspear is a progression through the years before, during and after WWI and although I am sure you would enjoy any one of them as a stand alone read, I would recommend starting from the first. This one is set in 1933 as Europe is marching slowly but surely to WWII. Fascism is rearing it’s ugly head in England and many will accept anything as long as it keeps the peace. The cold hard ugly truth of war is too well remembered and avoid another one at most any cost is how many feel. Maisie goes undercover to sniff out unsavory elements at a. Illegal known for its stand for peace. And in the midst of her term there, the college president is murdered and, of course, she is well placed to sniff out the murderer.

Always love another visit with Maisie, Billy, Priscilla and the others. I will be sad when I finish this series, although thankfully I have a few more to go and Winspear seems to continue her love
for the characters as well.
March 12, 2015
This may be my favorite Maisie Dobbs. It has an interesting mystery as always, but it's more Maisie as woman coming in to her full stride of life that grabbed me. She now has an established inquiry agency with Billy Beale as her assistant. She is so well-regarded that Scotland Yard and the Secret Service have called her in for some under cover work. She is teaching philosophy at a new college in Cambridge, watching for signs of anti-government leanings of students or staff. On her second day there the college's founder is found dead in his office. Although she is not there to solve a murder, Maisie cannot stop herself from investigating. She's running back and forth to London in her MG, meeting clandestinely with Scotland Yard investigators and keeping up with her teaching duties. As always, Maisie meets a variety of interesting people in her investigation, some of whom with she will stay in touch. Set in 1932, I found the foreshadowing of WWII apropo to Maisie's remit a perfect secondary storyline, as the series deals with the effects of the Great War on Maisie and those she loves as well as Europe as a whole. I definitely recommend this series. Start with the first book, Maisie Dobbs to get the full experience.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,241 reviews533 followers
December 5, 2011
This is the 8th in the Maisie Dobbs series and she has reached late 1932. With economic times still hard in England and Europe as a whole, Hitler and the Nazi party on the rise in Germany and the Secret Service recruiting her to look for suspicious behavior at a peace college, Maisie has more than enough to keep herself busy before the murder of the college principal.

In this installment, there are developments in every part of her life. Her private inquiry business continues to thrive, she is now a woman of means who can help her employee Billy if she can find a way that he can accept. She is in love but scared to lose love again. I really enjoyed this episode in Maisie's life. Yes it touched on many bases, but I found it did so well and true to the original story.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
142 reviews
March 14, 2011
This is the first Maisie Dobbs novel I have read and I'm sorry that I haven't read the others after reading this one! I intend to correct that right away.

Maisie is recruited by the British Secret Service in 1932. They ask Maisie to keep tabs on Greville Liddicote. Liddicote is the author of a pacifist children's book that the government went to great pains to suppress during WWI and he has founded a college in Cambridge devoted to maintaining peace in Europe. Maisie keeps tabs on Liddicote by becoming a philosophy teacher at his school. When a staff member is murdered, she reverts to her old profession and works to aid the police inquiry from the inside.

The book is quick paced and never slows down. I am now a die-hard Maisie Dobbs fan!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,511 reviews3 followers
April 26, 2016
I think with each book I fall more and more into this series. I love how each books brings so much character development and none of the characters are just living static lives. I read these books for the interesting mysteries, but also to see what is in store for each recurring character. The writing is sophisticated and beautiful and the story lines are also full of emotion and intrigue with interesting outcomes. I am happy that Maisie is finding some happiness and progress in her life, though I wish she would make certain person decisions FASTER. This series is also interesting because it's showing a time in England where the world is in transition after the "Great War" and unknowingly on a crash course to WWII.
Profile Image for Lisa.
295 reviews7 followers
October 31, 2019
I have absolutely loved this series until this point, but this installment felt scattered and somewhat superficial. I kept losing track of the threads, and felt curiously unmoved. Some of my favorite characters, such as Billy and Frankie, were barely present. But Maisie Dobbs is a character I will follow, wherever she goes.
Profile Image for Barbara Schultz.
2,913 reviews156 followers
October 8, 2021
Aww I just love THAT Maisie Dobbs!!! Typical with her stories there are several going on and all kept me reading or in this case listening as it was an audiobook.

This story is once again narrated by actress Orlagh Cassidy, one of my favorite audio performers.
This is #8 in the series. I have read several in this series and have read out of order. Yes! There are recurring characters but have to admit it not only is fun to read how the relationships are continued. The earlier read tell us how they began.
I am happy I still have many more stories to look forward to reading.

In this story, Maisie is sent by the British Service to be a junior lecturer at a private college in Cambridge. No soon has she arrived with the pacifist college founder is murdered. There are some twists and our Maisie comes through once again with her excellent investigative skills.
Additionally there is another story going when a young 24 year old finds herself a widow and she believe her husband’s death wasn’t more than an accident.

Thank you Jacqueline Winsper for a such GREAT series
Profile Image for Tracy.
552 reviews43 followers
April 22, 2023
I love the Maisie Dobbs series. This is book 8 and you do need to read in sequence. This one wasn't as great as the last one but I'm still enjoying her life and the times she's in...I would love to get in a time machine and head back to early 1900s London, but reading is the next best thing!
Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,434 reviews50 followers
January 21, 2022
Secrets every where. And things are looking shaky. We know what happens in the political future of the times. Maisie has reason to be troubled by the rise of fascism and admiration for Hitler amongst some of the intellectual and wealthy young.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books403 followers
April 6, 2017
December 1932. Adolf Hitler is agitating to become Chancellor of Germany as his following grows. Many Britons, too, especially the aristocracy, are finding a lot to like in Herr Hitler and his Nazi Party. In increasing numbers, they are campaigning to resist any effort by the United Kingdom to go to war with Nazi Germany—a war that many wiser heads are already predicting. The Nazis and the Fascists are joined by many pacifists. But Maisie Dobbs is not among them. She abhors the anti-Semitism of the Nazis as well as the home-grown Fascists and regards pacifism as naive. But more mundane concerns preoccupy her.

Maisie’s business as a “private inquiry agent” is growing, making for more work than she and her assistant, Billy Beale, can comfortably handle. Her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, has willed most of his considerable estate to her. She’s now a wealthy woman. But Maisie is not happy. Her aging father stubbornly refuses to move into the large house she has inherited from Maurice. James Compton, the man who is “courting” her, has postponed his return from Canada. And now she discovers that she is being followed wherever she goes.

After eluding the three-person team who is tailing her, Maisie surprises (and embarrasses) them. Learning that they’re police officers from Special Branch at New Scotland Yard, she demands they take her to their boss, Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane.

When Maisie arrives at MacFarlane’s office, she soon learns that she was being followed as a test of her ability to detect a tail. And a surprise visitor soon arrives in the office: Brian Huntley, a senior officer in the Secret Service. The Chief Superintendent has undertaken the exercise in collaboration with Huntley. In short order, Maisie learns that her life and work are about to take a radical turn, as Maurice had predicted shortly before his death.

Huntley presses her to sign the Official Secrets Act and then describes her strange assignment. She is to apply for a position as a lecturer in philosophy at a private college in Cambridge. The College of St. Francis, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, is attracting students from all around Europe. The Secret Service will ensure that she gets the job. Her assignment is merely to keep her eyes and ears open, looking for anything suspicious that may turn up at the college.

Not long after Maisie takes up her job, she finds an abundance of suspicious activity among the pacifists on the faculty. And then the founder and head of the college is murdered in his office. In A Lesson in Secrets, Jacqueline Winspear’s eighth Maisie Dobbs novel, Maisie becomes involved in the murder investigation and in uncovering a growing Nazi threat. The story is suspenseful, engaging, and full of surprises. It’s a delight for any fan of the series—and for anyone who seeks out mysteries and thrillers that avoid the violence and gore so prevalent in the genre.
Profile Image for Meg.
1,507 reviews10 followers
October 8, 2021
Maisie’s first assignment for the special branch sees her posing as a philosophy professor at a private college in Cambridge to investigate any suspicious activities. While she does find nazi sympathizers among the students at staff, the special branch doesn’t seem particularly interested and are instead concerned about communism. So her task seems to be headed for a dead end until the founder and head of the college is murdered. Dr. Liddicote was a pacificist who wrote a series of children’s books during WWI that urged an end to the war. They were banned after rumors that they were inciting mutiny amongst the troops. Was his death connected to the sympathizers on campus? No. Haven’t you figured out by now that all murders in Maisie Dobbs’ books connect back to WWI? He was killed by his assistant principal, Dr. Roth, because he found out that Dr. Liddicote did not write the children’s books but rather stole them and published them under his own name. The true author was a woman whose husband was in prison as a conscientious objector. When her husband dies, she needed money to support her children and turned to Dr. Liddicote for help since he was already a published children’s book author. Instead of helping her, he seduced her and sold the books under his own name and then abandoned her and her children without giving them a penny of the proceeds. The books made him rich and famous and allowed him to found the college. Dr. Roth was so inspired by Dr. Liddicote’s books that he sought him out after the war and pledged his support and loyalty. He invested his entire savings into the college and was enraged to find out that his hero was nothing but a fake. I have to admit that this story was a bit boring to me. Not much was happening other than Maisie’s clandestine trips to shadow various staff and students to spy on their political meetings. Even the reason for the murder was pedestrian. Working for the secret branch means that her partner, Billie, isn’t in the picture as much and his story is part of the charm of these books, so I was disappointed that he wasn’t involved more. The best parts of the book were of a personal nature – Maisie’s continued relationship with James, the birth of Billie’s new daughter, Margaret, and Frankie’s new fling with the housekeeper.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,792 reviews1,308 followers
February 5, 2012
This is the eighth in the Maisie Dobbs series of novels but the first I've read. Maisie Dobbs is one of those slightly unbelievable characters who populate these sorts of mystery novels—born into a working-class English family in the late nineteenth century, she goes into service but is Discovered as a bright young thing, goes to Cambridge, serves as a nurse during the Great War, and eventually becomes a private investigator and the heir to a comfortable fortune. Did I mention that even in 1932 she's pretty prescient about the rise of fascism and she's being wooed by a viscount? Sigh.

All that said, as a character, Maisie is commonsensical enough that all these superlative attributes don't truly grate, though her tendency to arrange things for other people without their knowledge does, at times, get a little Emma Woodhouse. The mystery isn't the best, but it's diverting. The prose never rises above the serviceable, and is occasionally somewhat clunky ("She shook her head, as if to get the image out of her head"), but if you're a fan of this sort of cosy, history-as-set-dressing mystery, you'll probably enjoy A Lesson in Secrets.

There is an additional level of enjoyment—for certain values of "enjoyment"—to be gained from listening to this in audiobook. The reader is an American attempting English accents, and while that's obvious when she's speaking as Maisie—in a vaguely southern, middle-class English accent—it's not too terrible. But as soon as she attempts anything else it's hilarious. Her attempt at a Scottish accent had me laughing out loud on my walk home—I don't think she's ever heard a Glaswegian in her life—and both her vowels and her word pronunciations were off when she tried to change class registers. Most damning of all, when voicing a character who has an Oxbridge education, was the mangling of French, German and Latin phrases. A modicum of research would have shown that "educare" is not a three syllable word in Latin!
Profile Image for Pamela Mclaren.
1,319 reviews81 followers
July 6, 2017
Its 1932 and intrepid former WWI nurse, not private inquiry agent, Maisie Hobbs is on an undercover assignment at the direction of Scotland Yard's Special Service. She's a junior lecturer at a private college led by an academic known for a children's book about ending all war. The governments concerned that the college may be the setting for activities "not in the interests of his majesty's government." The case become more complicated when the principal is murdered.

On the home front, Maisie is also trying to get her father to move into a home she has inherited and buys a house under construction, allegedly for an investment but really for her employee whose wife is giving birth to another child and isn't able to afford a home on his own. A third entanglement involves another person she knows and the mysterious death of her husband.

It all makes for an interesting psychological tale that is easy to read and enjoy. There is likely a time when I'll grow really tired of Maisie, who seems a bit too smart and good to be true, but I haven't hit that wall yet.
Profile Image for Jackie.
131 reviews10 followers
December 4, 2020
At first, I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy this series. Maisie Dobbs seemed immersed in privilege and wealth and I struggled to concentrate and be interested in her life. However, it wasn’t long before I was hooked and enmeshed in the 1930’s and the lives of Masie and her friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. As Alexander McCall Smith says on the cover “Masie Dobbs has not been created – she has been discovered”. And what a revelation she is!
It’s a bit odd coming to a series in the middle so, I will be glad to read of Maisie’s beginnings at a later date, then the exciting new turn her career takes when she accepts an undercover assignment in this novel, will sit on a firmer foundation of her former occupations!
Great reading, loved the mix of politics, ethics and murder mystery, looking forward as well as backwards to more
Profile Image for Celia.
1,192 reviews152 followers
August 4, 2021
Maisie Dobbs is now financially independent thanks to a bequest from Maurice Blanche... AND she is being recruited by the British Secret Service.

There are two simultaneous stories here:

1. Greville Liddicott, president of The College of St. Francis, has written a children's book espousing pacifism. The government has gone to great lengths to suppress this book, ostensibly because it has caused mutinies during WWI. Maisie is sent to The College to keep an eye on Liddicott.

2. A young lady who had lived with Maisie, Sandra, comes to Maisie grief stricken. Sandra is now a widow. She believes that her husband's death was not accidental but that he was murdered.

Maisie has her work cut out for her but, as usual, rises to the occasion. On the way to the end of the book, she solves two murders.

A very good story, just not my favorite. I still give it...

4 stars
Profile Image for Betty.
2,006 reviews52 followers
December 3, 2014
I am enjoying Maisie as I read the books. There are plenty of secrets that Maisie must keep. Maisie is working with the Secret Service and is teaching at The College Of St Francis, school established to bring about PEACE. There are worries that the Nazi party is there. While Maisie is present the Dean is MURDER.
Billie is working to Sandra find out why her husband died. James Compton is in Canada. All the characters continue to grow.
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