Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

To Die But Once (Maisie Dobbs, #14)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 27th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062436634
ASIN: B0722N61XC
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as "the Bore War"—nothing much seems to have happened yet—Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a "hush-hush" government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son—but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Thoughts
To Die but Once is the fourteenth entry into the Maisie Dobbs series, and it definitely doesn't disappoint.  You'd think that once the series got to this point that the mysteries would get rather thin, but the author set herself up nicely for this next entry as we're just at the point where things are getting rather interesting, historically wise, in England during WWII, as things begin heating up in France and the boys need to be rescued in Dunkirk.  And Winspear asks the question: How does this affect everyone at home?

Maisie had been hired by a neighbour to look for their missing son who had been apprenticed for a company going around the countryside painting fire-retardant chemicals on important government buildings as well as military buildings.  A trained nurse, and now a psychologist / investigator, Maisie is the perfect person to look for a missing boy; she can use her rather lengthy connections to gain access to some places that others may not be able to access.  

This series, and not just this book, is so well-written and well-researched, which is why I keep returning to it time and time again.  As a history teacher, I love learning some of the finer nuances of WWII that I didn't quite know, or know as well as I would have liked.  This book explores the early days and the use of fire-retardant and its effects on the painters and those exposed to the fumes.  Very interesting reading.  It is important to remember that Great Britain, like many other countries, was slowly coming out of its own depression, and many people were willing to take on jobs and they couldn't afford to be picky.  

The mystery isn't really the central part of the story and I really enjoyed that about this novel; it's really about family and the struggles that people had to survive during this time period.  There are young men who grew up on tales of WWI and want the chance to prove themselves against Hitler, not fully realizing the implications of what that really means; the challenge of a single female trying to adopt; the challenge of a man trying to keep his family from falling apart when his son goes missing in Dunkirk; a mother who is worried sick about her three boys; and the list just goes on an on.  It is definitely a fascinating period in British history, and it would be hard for anyone to write a story during this time period without including all of the havoc and turmoil that was happening as it would make it seem less authentic.  So while there was a lot happening in this one, and the mystery does kind of get lost at times, I don't know how it could be done in any other way because of the main events that were happening around them. The point being that smaller tragedies aren't any less real than bigger tragedies, they just hit people at different levels of suffering.

To Die But Once is the novel that finally enters WWII, one of my favourite historical time periods and I was so looking forward to this entry, which did not disappoint.  The author does assume some familiarity with the characters so if you are new to the series, there may be some confusion with regards to previous events. My recommendation is to read the novels in order as the characters' backstories will make a lot more sense.  I was also wondering how the author would introduce WWII, and I was not disappointed at all.  Because this is labelled a mystery novel however, I did feel like the mystery took a backseat to what was happening around them and every so often the author would remember the job that Maisie had to do, but I do understand why it had to be this way.  I am looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for Maisie next as you never know where she might end up or why. And we are now in the midst of WWII.