Sunday, July 31, 2022

Review: A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 22, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 358 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063142268
Audiobook: B09HL42Y5B
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

October 1942. Jo Hardy, a 22-year-old ferry pilot, is delivering a Supermarine Spitfire--the fastest fighter aircraft in the world--to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she realizes someone is shooting at her aircraft from the ground. Returning to the location on foot, she finds an American serviceman in a barn, bound and gagged. 
At the suggestion of one of her colleagues, Jo seeks the help of psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs. Meanwhile, Maisie's husband, a high-ranking political attachée based at the American embassy, is in the thick of ensuring security is tight for the first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her visit to the Britain. There's already evidence that German agents have been circling: the wife of a president represents a high value target. Mrs. Roosevelt is clearly in danger, and there may well be a direct connection to the death of the woman ferry pilot and the recent activities of two American servicemen.

My Thoughts
A Sunlit Weapon is the next instalment of the long-running Maisie Dobbs series, and because it seemed to focus on women pilots, I was really hoping for the magic of the earlier books and some interesting details into the historical details and political issues that existed for the women who risked their lives, sometimes facing some serious family fallout, in order to follow their dreams.  After all, they were the first women who were close to achieving pay equity and even though they didn't necessarily fly combat missions at this point, they were able to fly all sorts of different planes in some dangerous situations.  However, the overall story got bogged down by a convoluted plot, repetitive actions, and some rather unbelievable coincidences.  

I am one of those people who would have preferred Maisie to have remained unmarried.  While I like Mark, I am not a fan of the relationship as it just seems forced and it always seems like there has to be some aspect of Mark's job involved in the plot.  Personally, I really enjoyed the plot with the women pilots and I think the book would have been just fine if it had simply focused on that mystery; however, now we have the added bonus of Eleanor Roosevelt's visit with all of the shenanigans revolving around that as well as Anna's bullying at school.  While I can handle convoluted plots, too much can bog down a book, which this does.  It also takes away from the importance of the women pilots and their job, something with which I was not happy as I wanted to learn more about them. I felt like the author was downplaying their roles, and while I don't think it was intentional, it certainly felt that way, just to include Mark.  Why is it so wrong to put Mark on the back-burner and just highlight Maisie's activities? After all, we did just fine for many books without him.  It also seems to take away from the importance of Maisie's job, and her constant reassurances that she will look after her own safety gets repetitive after a while.  

My favourite character has always been Billy, and I would like to see him developed even more.  I was happy to see him promoted, but not necessarily happy by how it was done.  Although there is no doubt Maisie cares for him and is worried about him, the cavalier way she makes decisions for him rather turns me off. What happened to discussing important things like adults? With negotiations involved?

And the bullying and racism in the story? I was quite happy to see that included as it was an important aspect of WWII, but I am not sure I liked the way the author went about doing it in this story, through Anna's difficulties in school.  I am not opposed to the bullying itself as that definitely happened, but Maisie's confrontation with the headmistress kind of turned me off as it just seemed unrealistic.  Creating drama just for drama's sake. However, I thought the discussions about racism within the American military stationed in Great Britain were quite informative, and although they didn't go into as much detail as I would have liked, highlighted some social aspects of the war that are not necessarily discussed. 

A Sunlit Weapon had the potential to reach the level of mystery and suspense of earlier books, but the focus on too many convoluted plot threads ruined that with too many unbelievable coincidences and a lack of focus on any particularly aspect or theme.  This idea that Mark's job needs to be included in every book is a turnoff for me as I would like the mystery to be on Maisie and her investigations which would have meant more effort and energy developing the women pilot story line, something that would have been extremely fascinating and would have highlighted a fascinating piece of history.  Unfortunately, adding Mark to the story line has not strengthened this series.  I do like this author's writing style and would like to see her develop the social prejudice story lines in future books, but without all the added drama, just tell the story.  Overall, the author's historical research is really good and the writing style is interesting, but the mystery was weak. It was still an overall interesting read.