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A Lesson In Secrets
A Lesson In Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
by Jacqueline Winspear

Transitional book with ingenious mystery

As the storms of World War II arise on the horizon, the life of Maisie Dobbs takes on a new direction.  The British Secret Service enlists her undercover help working as a professor in a school in Cambridge, a school whose curriculum might hide dangerous political leanings for the new times.  During World War I, the government tried to suppress the pacifist children's book The Peaceful Little Warriors by Greville Liddicote.  Now that Liddicote has founded the College of St. Francis in Cambridge, the government wants to know if there is any connection to the National Socialist German Workers Party.  When Liddicote is murdered, Maisie Dobbs uses her investigative skills to find out the truth.   How is Liddicote's murder tied to the faculty and students?  How does the past influence the current day?

In A LESSON IN SECRETS, Jacqueline Winspear moves the time frame of her series forward, from the initial post WWI period to as time when WWII is on the horizon.  Maisie herself has changed as well.  Her investigative agency is now successful and inheritance has moved her from the ranks of a working girl to that of a woman with more independence and financial means of her own.  A LESSON IN SECRETS is a necessary step to move the protagonist forward chronologically into the period where readers presume future books in the series will be placed.   While series fans will want books to cover the transition, A LESSON IN SECRETS is a big jump ahead, not so much in time as in Maisie Dobbs' character development.  Some readers, myself included, would perhaps have enjoyed a more subtle transition.  In addition, Maisie Dobbs' enlistment with the Secret Service is a bit abrupt to be as believable as it might have been. Such a placement does allow intriguing insights into the class and academic system and its relevance to the politics of the time.  The historical placement of the Secret Service infiltration of schools makes the spying more acceptable perhaps as modern day readers know the threat Hitler would pose later.  Still, readers familiar with later time periods might also find the infiltration and Maisie's willing acceptance of it somewhat disturbing on purely philosophical reasons, particularly because she is a character who often sees the more subtle and yet timeless connections and meanings of psychology and philosophy.  Jacqueline Winspear takes the reader right into the historical period so that readers can put away the present while reading the story, and yet, the questions somehow linger.

A LESSON IN SECRETS is an ingenious, fascinating historical mystery, a mystery that takes readers into the past as well into the heart.  It is in the mystery itself and Maisie Dobbs' unique investigative skills that fans will most recognize the Maisie Dobbs that they have grown to love.   Like previous Maisie Dobbs novels, A LESSON IN SECRETS is
perfect choice  for the reader who wants a little bit of everything --- the puzzle of a mystery, the insights into the past, psychological or some sense of spiritual depth all bound together with a bit of the richness of literary fiction.  Jacqueline Winspear takes readers into the past and, through Maisie Dobbs, takes readers into the hearts and pasts of her characters.  The multi-dimensional aspect of the past within a historical novel adds a special delight for historical fiction lovers.  As a transition book, fans might have wished more, and yet, the mystery itself makes the book worth every page.  As the eighth book in the series, A LESSON IN SECRETS can be read as a stand-alone by readers new to the series because the character has changed considerably, but I would recommend that those new to the series also investigate the early Maisie Dobbs mysteries.   While this is not my favorite book in the series in terms of the character development between books, the mystery alone excites this reader with its intriguing path to resolution.  Despite this book not being my favorite in the series, this long time Maisie Dobbs fan is eagerly looking forward to future directions in subsequent Maisie Dobbs novels!  The Maisie Dobbs mysteries, this one included, just have both the mystery and the historical detail to fascinate a reader.

Publisher:  Harper (March 22, 2011)
A Maisie Dobbs Mystery
Author website

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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