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by Jacqueline Winspear
HarperCollins, March 2018
336 pages
ISBN: 0062436635

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

TO DIE BUT ONCE, Jacqueline Winspear’s latest Maisie Dobbs mystery is set in 1940 and again finds Britain struggling with war and all that it brings. In earlier novels, Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, lived through WWI, nursing soldiers in France. She has grown and matured through the years, dealing with loss of loved ones and trying to help those who were affected by the Great War. Although we understand world history, it seems bitterly unkind that this brave woman, her friends and colleagues, must again face the horrors of war.

As the book opens, Joe Coombs, a young man known to Dobbs, has gone missing. He had left London to work on a wartime job—painting military bases with fire-retardant material to keep them safe from bombings. Phil, Joe’s father, a pub owner, comes to Dobbs to ask her help first in finding his son and then, when his body has been discovered, using her skills to understand how he died. The police say misadventure, meaning he was drunk and fell off a wall. But Dobbs is suspicious. Joe had been having terrible headaches from the toxic paint he was required to use. She suspects that there are connections that the police are missing.

Wartime contracts seem to have been awarded to the company he works for in an unclear manner. A local crime family, headed by Jimmy Robertson, may be involved. Dobbs also wonders where the Coombs family gets the money they seem to have to buy clothing and other expensive items. Could there be connections to the black-market and stolen goods?

The details of living through wartime in England are part of this story. Dobbs keeps forgetting to carry her gas mask. The air is filled with barrage balloons, flying to trick the German aircraft and keep them away from the buildings. Blackout curtains must be secured each evening. German spies may be lurking nearby. Dobb’s assistant, Billy, is dealing with the heartache of his son in the army, while trying to keep his wife and daughter away from London.

The great evacuation of British soldiers across the channel from Dunkirk begins, as the Germans force the Allies to retreat. Dobb’s friend Priscilla’s 16-year-old son Tim is missing. Without telling anyone, Tim and a friend had taken out the friend’s boat to save the evacuees. With petrol coupons running out, Dobbs takes Priscilla on a suspenseful chase from port to port to try and locate Tim and his friend. Meanwhile, Dobbs is dealing with a personal crisis concerning an orphan named Anna who had been left in her care. Although approved as guardian, obstacles stand in the way of her changing their relationship.

If you are a fan of the indomitable Maisie Dobbs, you will be riveted by her latest adventures. If you are new to her, TO DIE BUT ONCE is a great place to start, although your reading list will now include the thirteen previous novels in this series.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, January 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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