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Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel    by Jacqueline Winspear order for
Messenger of Truth
by Jacqueline Winspear
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Good news for Maisie Dobbs fans! She is back in top form in the fourth book in the series about the young private investigator in post-World War I England. In the previous entry, Pardonable Lies, Maisie investigated two cases of young men believed to have died in the Great War, trying to determine exactly what had happened to them. Though well done, that book seemed to have lost some of the steam of a series that started with a bang, with the wonderful debut novel Maisie Dobbs.

In Messenger of Truth, Maisie once more provides a fascinating mystery for patient fans. It is the winter of 1931 and thirty-something Maisie is asked by an old college acquaintance (Georgina Bassington-Hope) to investigate the tragic death of her artist brother Nicholas. Just before the opening of his latest exhibit, the acclaimed and very successful Nicholas fell to his death from a scaffold while installing his new masterpiece. The police quickly decide it is an accident, but Georgina thinks her dear twin may have been murdered.

Winspear has captured the sad spirit of the early 1930s in England. The Depression is spreading its effects through the lower classes, and brave men who had fought for their country in the trenches are not able to feed their families. Maisie's assistant Billy Beale lives close to the edge with his family, and his beloved daughter Lizzie is struck by diphtheria which spreads easily through their impoverished slum.

The war has left indelible effects on thousands of war widows, including Georgina's sister Nolly who lost her husband. With so many men slaughtered in the trenches, these women will never have another chance to marry. Nicholas and his artist friends suffered lingering guilty pangs from their war work of painting patriotic posters to entice young men into the army.

Maisie herself is like many of the women of her times who served bravely at the Front as nurses and drivers. Now civilians, they face the choice of remaining solitary and single to maintain their independence and freedom, or relinquishing it to marry. Maisie's work is her rock. 'She was blessed - and sometimes, she thought cursed, with keeness of insight', which enables her to understand both the bare clues and the emotional and pyschological underpinnings of a crime. While Maisie, with her single-minded and earnest focus on her work, might not be one's first choice as a friend, she is certainly the person to depend on to solve a crime.

Once Maisie starts delving into Nicholas's death, meets the artistic and eccentric Bassington-Hope family, and entrers the art world of his friends, she also starts having doubts about the supposed accident. The centerpiece of Nicholas's newest exhibit, which he had kept a big mystery, is now missing. Rich American collector Randolph Bradley is circling, eager to grab the piece. Nicholas's artist friends profess total ignorance, but Maisie has her suspicions, especially after she visits Nicholas's studio in a small village, where he and his friends formed an artistic enclave. While looking at his sketches and then observing mysterious night-time activities, her nose starts twitching.

Further work by Maisie and Billy finally leads to a surprising and painful solution to the well-plotted mystery. Much of it is tied to what is revealed in the the mysterious masterpiece, and the entire Bassington-Hope family is changed by the outcome. Maisie also changes in the process of learning about Nicholas's art and recovery from his war work - first as a foot soldier in France, and then, after he was wounded, as a War Office propagandist painter back at home. His poignant and dramatic paintings over the post-War years depicted the true horrors of war, not the patriotic fantasies often portrayed by others. He truly was a messenger of truth, as is Maisie for her clients.

In studying the changes over the years in his paintings, Maisie sees how Nicholas had emotionally recovered from the trauma, and this helps Maisie also continue to put the War further in the past for herself. Faithful readers hope that Maisie will continue along this promising path and have a fuller, more balanced life in the future.

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