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A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel    by Jacqueline Winspear order for
Lesson in Secrets
by Jacqueline Winspear
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Maisie Dobbs returns for her eighth (following The Mapping of Love and Death) adventure in Jacqueline Winspear's A Lesson in Secrets, set in the summer of 1932. At this stage in Maisie's career, her personal situation is very different from what it was in early episodes. Her investigative business (which she handles along with her East Ender assistant Billy Beale) is thriving and she has inherited wealth and property from her mentor, spymaster Maurice Blanche. But, more than that, she seems to have inherited others' expectations that she continue his role as a seeker of truth.

After a brief period of testing, Maisie is contacted by DCS Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yard's Special Branch and Brian Huntley of the British Secret Service and asked to apply for a job as junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis, Cambridge in order to keep an eye on 'the school and its activities'. Its students come from 'the seven corners of the world' and 'an emphasis on the maintenance of peace in Europe underpins much of the teaching.' College founder Greville Liddicote is a writer of children's books, in particular The Peaceful Little Warriors - the story of 'a group of fatherless children who go to live in the woods, and who decide to journey to France to end the war' that apparently incited mass mutiny on both sides by World War I soldiers.

Soon after Maisie's arrival in Cambridge, college founder Greville Liddicote is murdered. DCS Robert MacFarlane and DCI Richard Stratton lead the investigation, though with quite a few nudges from Maisie. Who did it? His hostile secretary, Rosemary Linden, who disappears soon afterwards? German Dr. Matthias Roth who argued vehemently with Liddicote before his death and who inherits his position? Dr. Francesca Thomas ('the neutral Swiss') who keeps her own wartime secrets? Teaching assistant Delphine Lang, a recent Heidelberg graduate, whose contract renewal was in question? Delphine is very close to Robson, son of major college donor Dunstan Headley. Delphine and Robson attend meetings of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei together and admire Hitler.

Another story thread follows the tribulations of Sandra Tapley, who worked at Ebury Place before she married and who stubbornly pursues her own investigation into the death of her young husband - she's convinced it wasn't accidental. Maisie is determined to help Sandra. Then there's Maisie's burgeoning relationship with James Compton, who's away in Canada for most of this story. Where can it lead when Maisie is unprepared 'to trust happiness'? College matters come to a head after a debate on the pros and cons of 'adoption of a national socialism in Britain, based upon the tenets of the National Socialist Party in Germany', with the closing of the murder case almost an afterthought.

As this episode ends - with World War II looming at the end of the decade and Maisie having demonstrated her talent for espionage - she wonders 'was happily ever after another one of time's secrets, waiting to be revealed on the journey?' Maisie and her growing legion of fans, will just have to wait and see. But don't miss A Lesson in Secrets.

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