September 1939. Very soon a state of war will exist between England and Germany. Appeasement has failed. It will never succeed with a bully; they always demand more. The title of this book is taken from the king's speech at the beginning of England's war.
Faithful readers of this series, myself included, have now followed Maisie Dobbs from her late childhood before World War I, through that war where she served as a military nurse and was seriously injured along with the doctor with whom she was in love, and after the war as she began to recover from her wounds and accepted that Simon, her doctor lover, never would, and began to build her business as a private investigator and psychologist. We've seen her fall in love again after Simon's death and eventually marry and become pregnant, only to see her husband die in the crash of the plane he was testing and herself delivering a stillborn child on that same day. After a stint in Spain helping the Republicans in their war against the Nationalists and a mission to Munich on behalf of British intelligence, we find her back in England, still building her business and preparing, like the rest of the British population, for war. Now you are all up to date and don't have to read all those twelve earlier books!
But you would miss a lot of good reading if you skipped them. Winspear is a fairly meticulous researcher and her books are very good at evoking the flavor of the period about which she writes. The action of the novels is set in the actual events of the day and the books give one a sense of what ordinary people were going through at the time. Her main character Maisie can be quite stolid and a bit too perfect at times - really, does the woman have no faults or weaknesses? - but, on the whole, the characters are well-drawn and the plots, though somewhat esoteric, do move along.
The plot of this one harkens back to World War I when England took in many refugees from Belgium. After the war, most went back home, but some, especially those who were in their late teen years when they emigrated, had put down roots in England and chose to stay there. Now one of them has been murdered and the police are not making any headway in solving the crime. The Belgian Embassy, in the person of a Belgian intelligence operative with whom she has worked before, contacts Maisie and hires her to investigate.
No sooner has Maisie begun her investigation than another man who was a Belgian refugee during the First World War is killed in a manner similar to the first victim. Delving deeper, Maisie finds that a third such man had died just a year earlier, with his death attributed to suicide, but she suspects that it, too, was murder. What connected all these men, other than the fact that they were Belgian refugees who settled in England? What happened in their shared past that has led someone, more than twenty years later, to take their lives?
Meantime, as the country gets ready for war, the children of London are being evacuated to the country and Maisie's home is offering sanctuary to three of them. The family of the two boys, brothers, is known, but there is a little girl, perhaps five years old, who is unknown and possibly an orphan. Complicating matters, she arrived with no documentation and she is not speaking. Another mystery for Maisie Dobbs to solve.
While this was not the strongest entry in this series, it was well-written and held my interest throughout. I solved the mystery of the murders pretty early on, although I had to wait for Maisie to follow the trail and figure out the "why." And it seemed pretty obvious to me from the beginning that the little girl Anna was going to be taken in by Maisie, perhaps on a permanent basis. Perhaps I'll find out for sure when I read the latest entry that came out in March of this year.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars