It is often said “That fools rush in where angels fear to tread..”(Alexander Pope) and considering the day that’s in it, it seems quite apt. But in the thriller or crime genres, the hero or heroine needs to be a little fool hardy and to take risks, in order to solve the mystery or save the day. Foolhardiness also played a big part in real life times of crisis, such as during the two world wars with numerous accounts of heroic acts which in normal day to day life any self respecting angel would have balked at the notion.
The era of World War Two has spawned many novels, films and artistic works. Some are true stories, some are ‘faction’ and some are romanticized versions of events. The War provides a colourful backdrop to any story or romance or intrigue. It is still within living memory but our ‘memories’ are coloured by the righteousness of victory and a belief that those of us on the winning side all pulled together in a noble way. However, wartime is also a period when crime rates soar. No more so than in Jacqueline Winspear numerous novels. This months first book review is her latest novel, The American Agent published by Allison & Busby (www.allisonandbusby.com) on the 26th March
When a young american woman is found dead in her London flat. The brutal murder of the journalist is concealed by the British Authorities, initially keen to avoid a problem with the US but also because the victim Catherine Saxon has political connections. She has been working towards becoming a member of Murrow’s boys, a group of American reporters who are based in London and writing human interest stories with the aim of encouraging US sympathies towards supporting the Allies. Maisie Dobbs is asked to work in conjunction with an American Agent, Mark Scott to solve the crime. Dobbs and Scott have met before, he helped her escape the clutches of the third Reich in Munich a couple of years previously. Can Maisie and her American friend get to the bottom of this murder while the Luftwaffe rain ordinance down on top of the British capital, threatening not just their investigation but the lives of those they love?
The American Agent is set during the time we now know as the Blitz, a period of intense bombing of British cities, which occurred during months from the autumn of 1940 to the beginning of summer in 1941. This was a truly evocative time in British people’s psyche. Those of us who were brought up in Britain, would have an ingrained understanding of what London during the Blitz was like, even though we have never personally experienced it. This was also a period when the British were working hard diplomatically to induce America to join the War. This propaganda offensive is also a feature of Winspear’s story, providing a side story to the murder mystery at its centre.
This isn’t Winspear’s first novel featuring Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator but it is the first I have had the pleasure to read. A situation soon to be corrected! Maisie has had an interesting life to date. She was a maid in an Aristocratic house at thirteen, where she received the patronage and support of both her suffragette employer and of Maurice Blanche an investigator. Inspired, she gains entry to Girton College, only to have her studies cut short by the start of the Great War, during which she works as a nurse on the Front. She subsequently becomes an investigator in her own right and as we join her here, has experienced love and loss and is currently in the process of trying to adopt a refugee child. A widow to a titled gentleman, she doesn’t routinely use her title but one can imagine it makes some things possible for a woman in 1940 that wouldn’t be otherwise.
English born American author Jaqueline Winspear has to date written 15 books, fourteen have featured her heroine Maisie Dobbs. The others include Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds Of A Feather (2004), An Incomplete Revenge (2008), The Mapping Of Love And Death (2010), A Dangerous Place (2015) and In This Grave Hour (2017). The only book not featuring the enigmatic Ms Dobbs is The Care And Management Of Lies (2014). Born in Kent, Winspear emigrated to the United States in 1990 . It is her grandfather’s experiences and injuries at the battle of the Somme which inspired her to write historical fiction based in war time.
In The American Agent, Maisie has a pool of suspects, a wealth of motives and a victim
with a mysterious past. She also has her doubts about Mark Scott’s involvement. Is the investigation a blind for something else? Is he involved? She is drawn to him romantically, but does he feel the same way? Maisie is trying to juggle her work as an investigator with working as ambulance crew during the blitzes and maintaining a relationship with her refugee child, who is in the countryside under the care of her parents.
This was very much Sunday night TV in terms of style. And I say that with utmost respect. It reminded me of Foyle’s War, Call the Midwife or Heartbeat . One of those well-made, characterful dramas, that when you see it in the listings, you know you are in for an enjoyable time. A lover of Agatha Christie since my childhood, this was very much up my street. The characters are well drawn, the setting is absolutely spot on and the denouement satisfying in its intricacy. There was none of the gore and shock factors of modern crime thrillers. This read was very authentic. If someone told me it was written in the immediate post war period, I wouldn’t be surprised as it had a similar style to some vintage crime stories I’ve enjoyed. However Maisie is an inspiring very modern heroine. This should be an extra bonus in advertising this new novel and the other Maisie Dobbs novels on both sides of the Atlantic, in the current pro women in lead roles climate.
I for one, can’t wait to join the Maisie Dobbs revolution and catch up with the rest of the series! Neither should you, so hop on your bike to your local bookshop or download a copy and get behind a worthy new heroine.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book is part of a Random Things Blog tour, to see what the other reviewers think go visit their blogs listed below. Then if you pick up a copy of The American Agent, comeback to this or the other blogs and tell us whether you agree or disagree.