Source: Review copy
Publication: 26th March 2019 from Allison and Busby
When an American war correspondent’s murder is concealed by British authorities, Maisie Dobbs agrees to work with an agent of the US Department of Justice to help an old friend discover the truth.
With German bombs raining down on London, Maisie is torn between the demands of solving this dangerous case and the need to protect a young evacuee. And what will happen when she faces losing her dearest friend and the possibility that she might be falling in love again?
Happy Publication day to Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs books, of which The American Agent, published today, is no 15.
I have no idea how I managed to get through life without coming across these books before, but that’s an omission I will certainly be remedying. Maisie Dobbs is all you want in an investigative protagonist. Practical, down to earth, has a strong eye for detail that others miss, is not afraid to do what needs to be done and will stay on a case until she has it cracked.
Set in London in 1940, at the height of the blitz, Maisie Dobbs and her friend Patricia are volunteer ambulance drivers in central London, whilst Maisie undertakes investigative work by commission on the side, utilising her psychologist’s skills to uncover motives and murderers.
Maisie Dobbs, like so many others, knows about loss and worry as well as personal injury, but her life is full, driving a London ambulance at night alongside her closest friend, while working as a psychologist and investigator by day. Spending a 4 day week in London and weekends at her Kent country home, where Anna, the young girl she is desperately keen to adopt, is living. From the backstory we are given we learn that Maisie is titled (though she never uses her title, finding it gets in the way of her ‘approachability’) and has, in recent years, been bereaved of a husband, a friend and a mentor.
Her resilience though is not in doubt, and when Catherine Saxon, an American war correspondent following in the footsteps of Ed Murrow with her broadcasts, is found with her throat cut, Maisie is tasked with investigating her death. For Maisie this is personal as well as professional. Catherine had come out on an ambulance night shift with her and she liked the young woman a great deal.
Inevitably, her investigation brings her into contact with an agent from the American Embassy – someone she has come across before – but Maisie has to decide whose side he is on before she will be prepared to work with him.
Maisie does not know whether this murder is political or personal, but as she finds out more she realises that a great deal may be at stake here. Catherine’s broadcasts home were telling people what it was like to be bombed every night, but her broadcasts were not finding favour with the isolationist Joe Kennedy, US Ambassador to Britain and despite Churchill’s best efforts, America has not yet committed to entering the war. Solving this case could well make a difference to that position and Maisie knows she has a critical task in hand.
Jacqueline Winspear cleverly captures the mood and drama of the Blitz. The fear, dirt and disruption to people’s daily lives as well as the death and destruction is all captured as Maisie and her friend Patricia drive through the war torn streets in their ambulance or snatch a few hours of sleep in dirty underground shelters.
I’m not normally a big fan of romance in my crime novels, but the lightness of touch that Winspear uses to infuse Maisie’s life with more than simply caring for Anna and undertaking her various roles helps to add some lightness and colour to an otherwise quite grey existence.
The approach to solving the murder is fresh and meticulous; well-ordered and deductive. Maisie knows how to get through to people and through delicate questioning and an understanding of human nature she is soon much closer to the truth. Maisie Dobbs is no-one’s fool and underestimating her is a bad mistake.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will go looking for more of her backstory.
Verdict: A surprising story well told with compassion, and full of political intrigue, fascinating historical detail and interesting characters.
Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in Kent and emigrated to the USA in 1990. She has written extensively for journals, newspapers and magazines, and has worked in book publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. The Maisie Dobbs series of crime novels is beloved by readers worldwide – always going into the New York Times top 10 on publication.