A Book Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

A couple of disclaimers right off the bat.

First, I am a huge fan of Jacqueline Winspear. Second, her protagonist, Maisie Dobbs is my all time favorite female detective.

Maisie is such an intriguing character. A highly skilled investigator who uses her psychologist background to develop insights into her clients and the crimes she investigates. Yet Maisie is flawed and, at times, these flaws will appear in an investigation and threaten to throw the entire case off track. These flaws influence her personal relationships as well.

Maisie’s mother died when she was very young. When she was thirteen, her father put her “in service” as it was called because he knew he couldn’t provide for her. Maisie became a maid in the house of a very rich family. When they discovered her intellectual abilities, they made arrangements for Maisie to be tutored by Maurice Blanche. He would become her lifelong mentor.

When World One came, Maisie lied about her age and enlisted as a nurse. She was assigned to a field unit in France where she experienced the horrors of war, horrors that would have a lasting impact on her and her work. There she met her first love, a doctor, only to see him severely wounded and reduced to life in a wheel chair, locked by his wounds and trauma in a world he could never leave.

The Maisie Dobbs stories are set in the England between the two world wars. Ms. Winspear does an awesome job of bringing this period to life. She weaves the after effects of the war with economic hard times to paint a stunningly realistic portrait of England and the world.

Pardonable Lies is the third book in the series and is among my favorites. Maisie is asked to prove a man reported dead in the war really died there. The father promised his wife on her deathbed he would pursue this. His wife was convinced their son survived. The investigation uncovers dark secrets about the son’s experience in the war and other family secrets.

As part of this effort, Maisie seeks information about her best friend’s brother who died in mysterious circumstances in the war. She discovers information that strains her relationship with her mentor, a relationship she’s not sure she can mend.

Another complicated case of a young girl accused of murder tugs at Maisie’s skills and her heart as she strives to prove the girl’s innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence, including the girl’s own confession.

What makes this story so fascinating is Ms. Winspear’s skill in maintaining the suspense and intrigue of the major plot lines and carrying forward subplots that add depth to the whole story. Maisie’s life is threatened several times. A young man shows romantic intentions and, while Maisie is attracted to him, her secrets and her yearning for her lost love hold her back.

Ms. Winspear introduces plot twists at just the right moment to keep the reader turning pages. The twists take us deeper into the complex worlds of the characters and upset the assumptions we had been making. Very well done.

What makes this novel so compelling are the characters. Ms. Winspear creates characters who are wonderfully complex with quirks and flaws and history that challenge her heroine and makes the relationships natural and real. From her doggedly faithful assistant Billy Beale, a wounded veteran, to Scotland Yard Inspector Stratton and his Sergeant Caldwell who both take on the roles of nemesis in this story. Her best friend Priscilla who urges her to find information about her brother and who prods and pokes Maisie to break out of her shell. Her relationship with her father touches the reader’s heart and gives us an even deeper insight into who Maisie is.

A five star read.

What’s the best book you’re read recently?

 

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