Judith Starkston's Reviews > A Lesson in Secrets

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
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Mar 25, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-mystery, mystery, strong-women

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!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 25, 2011 – Shelved
March 25, 2011 – Shelved as: historical-mystery
March 25, 2011 – Shelved as: mystery
March 25, 2011 – Shelved as: strong-women

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