With the July 4th weekend coming up, here’s another holiday reads for the grown ups.
The Plot: Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator, is recruited in 1932 to go undercover for the British Secret Service. Her assignment? Get a job as a junior lecturer at a private college (the College of St. Francis) in Cambridge. The college’s founder, Greville Liddicote, is controversial because of his pacifism. Rumors are that a children’s book he wrote during the War led to soldiers refusing to fight; the government confiscated as many copies of the book as it could. Maisie is asked to examine Liddicotte, his college, his colleagues, his students for “activities – by anyone – that are not in the interests of the Crown.”
Liddicote is murdered. Maisie’s job is not to investigate the murder, but to observe and report back, but she cannot help herself. Who killed Liddicote? And why? And, what exactly is an activity that is not in the interest of the Crown?
The Good: As explained in other reviews of the Maisie Dobbs books, a combination of intelligence, luck, drive, and spirit resulted in a thirteen year old servant becoming a university educated businesswoman; and the Maisie Dobbs books are equal part mystery and historical fiction, about England between the wars and how the Great War haunts Maisie and her country.
A Lesson in Secrets examines the role of pacifism during and after the War. It also is a look at the National Socialist Party (the Nazis) in England, at why people were attracted to the Party and Adolf Hitler.
Since Liddicote is a children’s author, it was rather interesting to see how he and his books were portrayed. Even more intriguing was how those books factored into the murder mystery.
As I said in my review of An Incomplete Revenge, the books don’t have to be read in order. I didn’t read the last two books, and had only a few “oh, that happened” moments. While Maisie is inching closer and closer to World War II, I was a bit surprised to see that the first book was set in 1929. It’s now book number 8 and only 1932! Another thing I only realized in putting together this review: this is the first Maisie book I read. All the others were audiobooks.
What else? Maisie remains delightful, smart and inspirational. The history fascinates; and the mystery keeps me turning the pages. Also, here’s a link to Maisie’s awesome car, the MG 14/40. This link is to one that is actually crimson, like hers.