Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2019
384 pages
ISBN: 006243666X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Through fourteen previous mystery novels, Winspear's series has followed the life of Maisie Dobbs through her education in the art of investigation, her romances and her experiences during several wars. This latest novel, THE AMERICAN AGENT, brings Miss Dobbs and the now familiar characters surrounding her into the early days of WWII in London. It is a time when the United States is still unsure of involvement in this European conflict, and many in powerful officials are expressing isolationist views. Winspear captures the horror of the nightly bombings, as Hitler's airplanes wreak havoc on London. But she also lets us see the amazing resilience of the people.

Maisie and her dear friend Priscilla volunteer as ambulance drivers to help rescue victims of the bombing. One night they are accompanied by a young American reporter, Catherine Saxon, who impresses Maisie with her courage, stamina and ambition. But the next morning the reporter is found dead, her throat slashed. Maisie is asked to look into the case, as it requires a subtle hand. Catherine is the daughter of a U.S. Senator with strong isolationist views who detests the work his daughter was doing in making the plight of the British more real for American readers.

Maisie, in her tranquilly methodical manner, looks into Catherine's work, her writing, her associations, her family, her lovers and her background. At first, it seems that there are too many possible places to find a motive for her murder, although nothing seems plausible. Was she murdered because of her writing? Did she discover something she was not supposed to know? Was there a jealous lover involved? Who was the mysterious man who showed up at her lodging? And how did Catherine end up in that lodging house anyway? Maisie speaks to all of the other young women who live in the house, as well as the landlady. Then she speaks to the wealthy couple who own the house and to Jennifer Barrington, Catherine's childhood friend. Somehow, without the reader seeing the whole picture, Maisie begins to form a theory.

Maisie is supposed to be helped in her investigation by an American agent named Mark Scott, the same person who had saved her life in the past. He proves to be an elusive helper, but a different sort of relationship begins between them. Investigating the murder is not the only critical event going on in Maisie's life. She is waiting for news about an important interview, one that will determine whether she gets to adopt Anna, the orphan she has been caring for and has come to love deeply. And on the last night that she and Priscilla had ambulance duty, Priscilla was gravely injured rescuing two children from a burning home. Her friend's condition weighs heavily on Maisie.

The terror of nightly bombing is a focal point of this novel. If anyone stays out too late, then they must remain where they are when the sirens begin. No one gets much sleep, and Maisie must function each day after sleeping in a shelter or cellar without much comfort and with constant reminders of death and destruction all around her. Winspear intersperses her story with excerpts from the real reports of the situation, quoting Edward R. Murrow several times, as well as others. This adds authenticity to the narrative, as well as underlining the severity of the situation and the necessity for the United States to become involved. Looking at this through our historical lens, we know that our country did become involved and that Britain did not fall to Hitler—but the characters live in a bubble of uncertainty. Certain historical figures do not come across very well in retrospect.

With its intriguing murder mystery, its sensitive portrayal of the British experience during this time period and Maisie Dobbs' personal life struggles, THE AMERICAN AGENT is one of the best in a series that has never been less than top-notch.

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

Reviewed by Anne Corey, December 2014

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]