Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is my 14th. Book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the September category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.
Maisie Dobbs is engaged by Sir Cecil Lawton to prove that his son, Ralph, really did die in the Great War. His wife died recently believing the young man was still alive despite the fact that the plane he was flying crash landed and burst into flames. On her deathbed she made her husband promise to find out the truth of the matter, even though he is sure his son died in the aircraft.
At the same time Maisie is trying help a young girl DI Stratton has arrested for murdering her uncle. The girl is hiding something and is thus uncommunicative: Stratton thinks Maisie might be able to get through to her.
All this means she is busy so Maisie is not exactly thrilled when her close friend from university, Priscilla, asks her to find out how her brother, Peter, died during the war. Priscilla, now married and living in France, lost three beloved brothers in the conflict, plus, like Maisie, is still traumatised after what the two of them went through as nurses on the western front. Maisie knows that this and the Lawton case will take her back to France, a place she desperately does not want to go, the memories being just too awful.
It soon emerges that someone else does not want her to go either. Unexplained 'accidents' and some poisoned chocolates indicate that Maisie is about to uncover secrets that someone would really rather she didn't.
Hard to put into words what a brilliant book this is. Book three in the Maisie Dobbs series is rather heart-breaking and painful to read in places, dealing as it does with the fall-out from World War One, still ongoing even after twelve years. People who lived through it and came out the other side were utterly traumatised and it never stopped, it might go away for a bit but then return with a vengeance, as Maisie discovers when she's forced to return to France and the site of the field-hospital where she served. There's only a brief description of what was happening there towards the end of the war but goodness me it's gut-wrenching.
There is, in fact, a lot going on in this book. Don't expect a traditional murder mystery because you won't find it here. Instead there are many topics explored, legal representation for the poor, the plight of gay men in the early 20th. century, the role of psychic mediums after the war, the intelligence secrets and missions of World War 1 and so on. Female police constables were just starting to be seen, so that was interesting. Maisie is rather 'ahead of the times' and can intuitively see things others cannot, in more ways than one, which fascinated me a bit. I can't wait to see what kind of journey this series takes me on. I'm becoming rather addicted I think and I can't believe I didn't find them interesting 10 years ago. I'm coming around to the idea that for everyone there's a time to read certain books and this is my time for Maisie Dobbs.