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"A female investigator every bit as brainy and battle-hardened as Lisbeth Salander." — Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air, on Maisie Dobbs
Sunday September 3rd 1939. At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain’s declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgium as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War.
In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered. And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the “last war," a new kind of refugee — an evacuee from London — appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie’s home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know who the child belongs to or who might have put her on the “Operation Pied Piper” evacuee train. They know only that her name is Anna.
As Maisie’s search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come. Britain is approaching its gravest hour — and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own.
The plot of bestseller Winspear's uneven 13th Maisie Dobbs novel (after 2016's Journey to Munich) has promise. Shortly after Neville Chamberlain's announcement on Sept. 3, 1939, that Britain is at war with Germany, Maisie receives a summons to her own London flat from Francesca Thomas, a member of a Belgian resistance movement during WWI. Thomas asks the psychologist and investigator to look into the murder of a Belgian refugee, railway engineer Frederick Addens, who was shot execution-style. Scotland Yard has made little progress on what for them is a low-priority case. Maisie agrees to help, despite her reservations about her client. Unfortunately, Maisie shows a lack of acuity when she not only endorses her late mentor's dubious aphorism, "Coincidence is a messenger sent by Truth," but also agrees that it merits displaying on her office wall, so as to be the first thing that she and her staff see every workday. The mystery fails to grip, and the quality of the prose falls short of Winspear's usual high standard.