Tuesday, October 11, 2011

book review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory: A Lesson in Secrets is the eighth Maisie Dobbs mystery novel. Here are links to my reviews of the first seven books: Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge, Among the Mad, and The Mapping of Love and Death. (There may be some minor spoilers from earlier novels in this review.)

The basics: The British Secret Service recruits Maisie to work semi-undercover as a professor of philosophy at a small college in Cambridge. Maisie is qualified, but she must apply and actually get the job. Her goal: see if anything is amiss at this college, whose founder and president wrote a pacifist children's book during the war that was suppressed. When he soon ends up murdered, Maisie has trouble distinguishing between her duties as a mole and her driving need to solve the crime.

My thoughts: After The Mapping of Love and Death, which was my favorite of the Maisie Dobbs novels, I was eager to see where Winspear took the story. There were many references to the numerous developments in that book, but I was pleased to see the mystery take center stage in this book. It was a pleasure to see Maisie as a professor of philosophy. She loved working with students, and provided a nice way to discuss the war, pacifism, and the impending fear some have for Herr Hitler:
"A man who stands up for what he believes instead of fighting for what someone else believes in is a threat--people cannot bear someone who has that sort of strength and fortitude."
With Maisie in Cambridge during the week, however, she was away from the action in London. This distance allowed Billy to work more independently. Maisie increasingly encourages him to use his instincts, and he seems to be gaining in confidence.

The mystery itself was quite intriguing. As an academic librarian, I have a predisposed fascination with academia, and this novel provided a fascinating glimpse into this institution. Having a murder take place at this small college was a shock to its people, and it provided Maisie with many possible suspects.

When I started this series at the end of December, I intended to follow the read-a-long and finish much sooner. In the end, I'm glad it took me ten months to complete the series. March seems so far away to wait for the next Maisie Dobbs novel. Like so many characters in a series, she's become a friend, and I already miss knowing I can simply pick up her next adventure to read. To tide me (and millions of others) over, Jacqueline Winspear has started a wonderful blog, Maisie Dobbs: Inspiration from an Extraordinary Generation. It's a joy to read, and it helps me wait a little more patiently for the next Maisie Dobbs novel.

Favorite passage: "She missed the twin aspects of his character she enjoyed--an ability to accept whatever the day had to offer, along with a need for his own quiet interludes, when he rode out on one of his hunters across the lands of the Chelstone estate."

The verdict: Although I didn't enjoy A Lesson in Secrets quite as much as The Mapping of Love and Death, it was an engaging read and a welcome addition to this series. The mystery shined brighter than Maisie's personal life in this novel, but there was enough intrigue in it to carry this novel. When Maisie's personal life did take center stage, it feels like seeing an old friend.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: March 22, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

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  1. It sounds like this book takes a very different tack than the previous books, and that in itself intrigues me. I have been very on the fence about whether or not to continue on with this series, but I think your review on this book helped me decide that it is something that I eventually want to do. Thanks for the very thoughtful and unexpectedly persuasive review!

  2. Okay, your enthusiasm for this series has done me in -- I'm getting the first book to read this autumn (perhaps I can get to it in November). I tried it once and couldn't get in to it, but everyone is so swoony I feel like I'm missing something!

  3. I just picked up three of the books in this series. I didn't read the review because I'm wanting complete surprise but glad to see them here! I can't wait.


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