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A LESSON IN SECRETS


By Jacqueline Winspear

Harper, 2011 ($25.99)
ISBN-10: 0061727679
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-172767-2

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

London in 1932 has mostly recovered from the devastation of the Great War, but there are storm clouds on the horizon. The British government is concerned about the Communist threat, but Maisie Dobbs, a consultant and investigator, wonders if a growing interest in the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, led by a charismatic man named Adolf Hitler, might be a bigger concern.

Maisie is now independently wealthly, having inherited the bulk of her mentor's fortune and property. Maurice Blanche knew she would do good things with the inheritance, and she does. She uses some of her windfall to help her assistant, Billy Beale and his family find a safer place to live. When Sandra, who'd lived with Maisie for awhile before her marriage, appeals to Maisie for assistance in finding her a job, Maisie hires her to handle the increasing case load. Maisie is shocked to learn that Sandra's husband Eric was killed in an accident on the job. Her intuition tells her there may be more to the story, and she sends Billy to look into Eric's death. She and James Compton are growing closer, although Maisie still doubts whether she can be a wife and still have her career. He is in Canada on business, and she is lonely and bored.

One day after work, she notices that she is being followed. She plays a cat and mouse game with the stalkers, and when the opportunity arises, she marches up to the car and asks what the police want with her. It's somewhat embarrassing that Maisie so easily spotted and identified her pursuers, but it demonstrates to Scotland Yard that she possesses the skills she needs for a joint investigation by the Special Branch and the Secret Service. They arrange for her to be hired as a junior lecturer in philosophy at a small college in Cambridge. The purpose of the college is to bring in young students from the Continent to interact with the British students in hopes of turning former enemies into friends, thus avoiding another war. The founder of the College of St. Francis, Greville Liddicote, is a pacifist who wrote a controversial children's book during the Great War that is rumored to have caused a mutiny when it reached the battlefield. Maisie tries to verify that, but everywhere she turns she is stonewalled. She wonders if her government is hiding a shameful secret.

Liddicote is murdered shortly after Maisie begins her teaching assignment, and her handlers tell her to stay away from the investigation and spend her time looking for activities at the college that are "not in the interests of His Majesty's government." She believes there may be a connection between the two, and she keeps on "helping the police with their inquiries," which, as always, gets her into perilous situations.

Maisie believes, from her brief conversations with him and from items she finds in his office that Liddicote was keeping a dark secret. Her investigation leads her to a family whose members had been deeply hurt by his actions. He had not meant them any harm, and his last thoughts were of them. Maisie, with her compassionate nature, manages to right the wrong done to them.

This is the eighth Maisie Dobbs novel, and it is as entertaining and thought-provoking as the previous volumes.

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