Monday, July 16, 2012

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

The year is 1930, more than ten years after the end of the Great War. Still, England and Europe are mired in the past. They cannot forget all that they have lost. The pain and suffering continue as they try to honor the memories of the dead, while getting on with their lives.

What is true of her country is also true of Maisie Dobbs of London, psychologist and private investigator. She continues to be called on to investigate and resolve cases related to the war and war injuries and deaths. Now, she is being asked by Sir Cedric Lawton to prove that his son, Ralph, is truly dead.

Ralph was an aviator in the war and was reported to have died in a fiery crash in France, but his mother never believed that he was dead. She continued to try to prove her belief through the use of mediums and spiritualists. Her obsession had finally driven her mad, but on her deathbed, she extracted a promise from her husband, Sir Cedric, that he would continue the search and finally prove whether or not their son had perished. 

Sir Cedric is convinced that he is dead and that seems to be a relief to him for his son was not the kind of son that he wanted. He was a homosexual and that was a supreme embarrassment to his father. Nevertheless, he honors his promise to his wife and hires Maisie to search for the truth.

As always, Maisie's search for truth does not proceed in a linear fashion. She is also involved in the investigation of the supposed murder of a pimp by a teenaged girl who was found covered in his blood and with the murder weapon in her hand, but Maisie comes to believe that she is innocent and enlists Sir Cedric in a quid pro quo arrangement to defend the girl. At the same time, Maisie's old friend Priscilla begs her to search for the truth surrounding the death of her brother Peter, who also died in the war. In time, all of these investigations will converge. Moreover, Maisie will find that someone wants to stop her from getting at the truth, even if it means "stopping" her permanently!

Jacqueline Winspear is particularly good at recreating the atmosphere of the times about which she is writing. One can feel the sadness and despair of her characters as they try to rebuild their lives after the man-made cataclysm that changed them forever. Moreover, she creates sympathetic characters that we care about and want to see live happily ever after. But the solutions to the mysteries in her stories are just a little too pat, a little too convenient, to believe in. And Maisie's intuition, her sixth sense, that helps to get to the bottom of the mysteries, seems a bit contrived to me. Those quibbles aside, this third book in the series was an interesting read about a traumatic and colorful period of history.

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