My rating: 4 of 5 stars
With Journey to Munich, the twelfth and most recent in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, we've now spent more than twenty years in the company of this character; from the years just before the beginning of World War I to 1938, the time of this novel.
We've followed Maisie from a child whose mother had just died and whose father gave her into domestic service with an aristocratic family, through her fortunate years and her education with that family, to the trenches of France as a nurse in the Great War, and afterward as she set up her business as a private investigator and psychologist.
We saw her marry the son of the family with whom she had been in domestic service and then lose him in an airplane crash in Canada and, on the same day, lose the child she was carrying. In the last book, we saw her on her way home after those terrible events, stopping off in Gibraltar and getting involved in the Spanish Civil War. But now we find her back home again in England where she belongs.
She's still in mourning and still trying to figure out what to do next, but in the midst of all that she is contacted by MI5, for whom she had worked at least once before, and asked to do a job for them.
It seems that a British citizen, a talented engineer, has been arrested by the Nazi government in Germany and is being held in Dachau. He has been there for a couple of years while the British government has negotiated for his release. Finally, the Nazis agree to give him up in return for a payment of cash but they will only release him to a family member. That creates a problem since his only family member is his daughter who is seriously ill with consumption and cannot travel. For some reason, it seems that the Nazis are unaware of this.
The body type of the daughter is similar to Maisie's and so MI5 decides she is the perfect candidate to impersonate her and bring the prisoner home where, it is thought, he will be able to aid the war effort which is just now gearing up.
After one week of training with a weapon and with self-defense maneuvers, Maisie is deemed ready to fool the Nazis and is sent off to Munich on her mission of mercy. And really, what could possibly go wrong?
A second twist in the plot is that Maisie's husband's former employer, whom she holds responsible for his death, learns - we never know how because it is supposed to be a tightly held secret - that she is going to Munich and he approaches her and asks her to contact his daughter, who has abandoned her husband and son and fled to Munich, and persuade her to come home. Of course, Maisie accepts the challenge, and, with no address for the woman, she wades right in once she is in Munich and, within a day, has located her and made contact. Honestly, sometimes Maisie is just a bit TOO perfect!
Of course, things never go quite as planned and yet Maisie is always perfectly up for the job and never seems to be in any real danger in what was, at that time, a very dangerous city.
And that encapsulates my only real problem with this tale; Maisie's perfection is a bit beyond believable. She never makes mistakes. She never misjudges. She's always perfectly prepared and one step ahead of her adversary. We always know that, like most protagonists in long-running series, she's going to come out on top in the end, but she never seems to break a sweat! For that reason alone, I wavered between giving the book three or four stars in my rating, and, if I could, I probably would have given it 3.5, but since I am such a generous and forgiving reader, I gave it four. So sue me.
The strong points of the book were that it did give us the flavor of the political atmosphere in 1938 Munich and the constant fear felt by average citizens who had to walk the daily tightrope to avoid the attention of the brownshirts. We also got a glimpse of the horrors of Dachau and, back in England, of a population hoping against all hope to stay out of another terrible war.
It was one of those fraught periods of European history where the common people were being dragged inexorably into the horrific maw of war once again. Words and politicians failed and the result was a barbarous tragedy of enormous proportions.
View all my reviews