Finally back in familiar territory and a most enjoyable and satisfying read. Maisie Dobbs, a little older, always wiser, not quite as grief stricken and ready to face yet another war. Storm clouds had been on the horizon for the last couple of books, and now they have arrived. Jacqueline Winspear's thirteenth Maisie Dobbs mystery, In this Grave Hour, opens on that fateful day, September 13, 1939 as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares war on Germany. Somehow this book feels like a circuitous but circular route has finally ended in a sort of completion even as we open a new chapter on world history. While this mystery is steeped in the events of the Great War, Maisie and her friends and colleagues realize that they really must face yet another terrible conflict.
While I do love a good novel of suspense and espionage and spy stories are always welcome, the last few years have been particularly rocky ones for Maisie. The last two books definitely have taken her out of the realm of mystery/detection and even several books prior to those hinted at another path that Maisie would take. Perhaps not at all surprising considering her late mentor, Maurice Blanche had a secretive past involving work with HM's government and the Secret Service, that she would also one day get involved in spy work. Her work as a psychologist and her sharp and intuitive mind and years of training means she is a natural for such work. She is a brave and capable woman but the work has been dangerous, and she has done her work mostly on her own. This has been a Maisie very different than the one so familiar during her more routine investigative work.
I hate to give any spoilers away, so I won't mention much about her personal life, but she had love and then lost it tragically, and it left her reeling. So the last few novels had been quite a departure from the Maisie I've known and loved as her life has had some very major upheavals. It feels good to get back to business and see all those familiar faces peopling the pages of this story once again. Maisie is known to have been a little prickly and very much the perfectionist. I've always loved the character of Maisie Dobbs, but it feels like her edges have finally softened. That impenetrable wall that has existed around her has begun to crumble and I see glimpses of a very human woman who maybe doesn't always have all the right answers or make the best decisions but she always makes them with her heart in the right place.
Anticipating the announcement Maisie is invited to the home of her much loved best friend Priscilla Partridge to hear Chamberlain's radio address. She and Priscilla met at Girton and then went through the Great War sharing experiences that would forever tie the two together. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds they have always complemented and supported each other. Priscilla's three sons refer to Maisie as Tante Maisie and they form a tight-knit extended family. The support will be needed now more than ever as Priscilla's husband is called up to do government war work and her sons are just on the cusp of adulthood. Already the war fervor has started and it's not hard to imagine the boys' desire to join up and become involved. Priscilla lost brothers in the first war so she's pained at the thought of another war and the danger her sons may soon be placed in.
The mystery of the novel hearkens back to the First World War even as the Second one begins in earnest. Francesca Thomas, formerly of Belgium but now working clandestinely for both the British and Belgian governments asks Maisie to look into the murder of a Belgian immigrant. A man who had come to England as a refugee from the First World War has been murdered in what appears to be an assassination style. He was shot in the back while kneeling. Although Maisie has given up any sort of espionage work, she agrees to help Thomas with her inquiries since this appears to be a "straightforward" murder. Of course rarely does murder turn out to be straightforward and things become more complicated the deeper Maisie digs to find answers. And one murder soon turns into two and then three. But once again Maisie is back at Fitzroy Square and in her old digs with Billy and Sandra back at work helping the investigation.
Maisie's personal life may have (happily) settled down but Winspear has opened up new possibilities for her and for Priscilla. The murder is not the only thread that weaves through this story. When war was declared London's youngest citizens began flooding the countryside to get them out of harm's way (the Blitz has not yet started but the fear of German bombs is palpable). Among the evacuees to come stay in Maisie's home village is one small girl who seems abandoned. She won't let her suitcase out of her sight and won't remains mum as to who she is, so there is a bit of a mystery involved there as well. Lots of old faces return in this story including a former friend (there was a hint of the chance of something more so many many years previously), Richard Stratton. So many old faces return as the war calls them all to take on new roles. I can already foresee lots of new avenues for Winspear to explore as both Priscilla's and Billy's sons all are coming of age. And Maisie's and Priscilla's previous war work and the fact that both women are capable drivers (Maisie has an Alvis!) likely will give them opportunities to do their part.
Needless to say I am already looking forward to Maisie's next adventure and am happy that she will be joined with family and friends who have been too far in the background in recent books. It's a testament to how much I admire Maisie that I have read each and every book. The Maisie Dobbs series in order consists of: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, An Incomplete Revenge, Among the Mad, The Mapping of Love and Death, A Lesson in Secrets, Elegy for Eddie, Leaving Everything Most Loved, A Dangerous Place and Journey to Munich. I've linked the titles to my own reviews. And now the wait for the next book begins.