To Die but once by Jacqueline Winspear

The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series centers around a missing boy who turns up dead. The catch? Why did someone kill him or was it an accident caused by the damage his brain was suffering due to exposure of dangerous chemicals?

Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite book characters. She is calm when I’m fidgety. Maisie thinks things through, while I dive in without a thought. She is now rich and I am not. And Maisie has found peace in her life, while I’m still working on it.

Set at the beginning of WWII, Maisie is reminded of her days in France in WWI. Her friends’ and co-worker’s sons are serving and a son disappears. Twists and turns around every corner. Dunkirk is even part of this book.

I highly recommend this book but caution it is #14 in the series and time has passed steadily in the series. The series progresses through time. Book #1 begins with the prelude to WWI and the war begins in the first book. My suggestion is read book one and go from there but enough of the past is filled in you can enjoy To Die but Once as an individual read.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd 


Dear Detective Inspector Rutledge,

I hope I may call you Ian. When I first read your story, my heart broke. The war to end wars failed because in 2016, we still have wars. Yes, almost 100 years since your war ended, war still rages. Shell Shock is now referred to as PTSD and it sadly still rips men and women’s souls apart. I am sure you are surprised by women being soldiers but a lot has changed for women since 1918 but in some ways we are still defined by our sex.

 Hamish, the Scottish soldier you were forced to severely discipline resides in your head and his voice is so loud at times you believe others can hear him.  Faced with the heartbreak when the woman you loved abandoned you in the face of a mental illness, you persevered. Saved by your sister’s love, you returned to Scotland Yard. I know you worry you’ve lost your ability to discern the truth, the sixth sense you had before the war. You seek solace in your work and escape from the horrors of war. But Ian, can any of us ever escape the wounds we suffered in life? Learning to live with them is the best I’ve been able to do.

Your boss, Chief Inspector Bowles is a man hungry to move up the ladder. The English society of class bears down on him and he resents your education and higher societal rank. You take it all in stride as you grapple with life after war. He likes to remove you from London and send you on what appear to be cases which can not be solved. You always surprise him though and come through in the end.

Bowles has sent you off to Warwickshire to solve the murder of Colonel Harris. Here you encounter a suspect who is close friends with the Prince of Wales, a catatonic girl, a talented female artist and the uniquely beautiful Lettice Woods. Can Hamish stay quiet long enough for you to solve the case? Will you be pushed over the edge and forced out of Scotland Yard? You know Bowles would be happy to see you gone. 

There have been so many changes Ian. We no longer open our doors to strangers. Cars and horses no longer battle for the road, for the auto won. Telephones are now carried in your pocket and you can call someone halfway around the world, but the love of country, family, friendship and loyalty are still of tantamount importance in our lives. I can picture myself sitting along side you in your auto touring the lovely English countryside.

Ian, will your skills as a policeman return? Can you solve this murder and keep Hamish a secret? Or will all your carefully placed shields fall and expose your secret to the world? Will you confide in Frances, your sister? Will she see through your carefully protected soul and discover Hamish? If she does, will she still love you?

One last thing, have you met Maisie Dobbs an attractive private investigator who was a nurse in the war? She lives in the mind of Jacqueline Winspear. 

Daphne. A five star book.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Dear Maisie,

You came from such humble beginnings. Losing your mother and having your father send you into service at a big house was heartbreaking, but you didn’t let those challenges break you. Your love of learning opened a door of opportunity and you gratefully walked through it.

Your loving father, Frankie Dobbs wished he had another choice, but he was burdened with doctor bills from your mother’s illness and he knew this was the best choice he had. You went to work for Lady Rowan. Discovering her vast library, you got up at 3 am so you could read before you began you day of chores. You feared being found out but had no idea discovering you in the library would be your way out of service. Maurice, a dear family friend of the Rowan’s, takes you under his wing training your mind and soul in ways you never expected.

Maurice realizes you learn and grasp concepts far beyond your age. You earn a place at Cambridge University and Lady Rowan becomes your patron. With the world of learning waiting to be discovered, England becomes involved in World War I. Your friend Enid, from your days in service compels you to do something more for the war effort. So you, Maisie takes a deferment at school and join up as a Voluntary Aid Nurse. Thus beginning another new path.

The mystery begins post WW I and Maisie you are now working as an independent private investigator, an unusual profession for a woman in 1929. You are hired to investigate when a worried husband wonders where his wife is spending her afternoons. Thus you are lead to The Retreat, a place for injured soldiers. It isn’t as rosy as it seems. Danger lies in your path and you realize you must face your own past.

Somethings never change Maisie. It may be almost 100 years past the ending of WW I but we still face war. War continues to damage souls and bodies. Soldiers still battle shell shock, physical challenges and are still misunderstood by society. Maisie, I don’t think I am brave enough to go to the front line and serve. My life has been protected from such choices. I am thankful for those who do serve.

You inspire me to face up to my own past, to the stories left unfinished. How will you finish your story? Will you be able to forgive yourself? Will I be able to forgive myself?  Will you be able to move forward?  Will I be able to move forward? Maisie, can we make new lives for ourselves? Only time will tell.

Your friend, Daphne

 

Bruno, Chief of Police

bruno-chief-of-police

Dear Bruno,

Your life as a village policeman has me hooked. The descriptions of the colorful residents, the countryside and the details of life in a small French village sound wonderful. Of course it can’t be a mystery without turmoil and your fictional village of St. Denis is no exception. A man is found dead with a swastika carved into his chest. What does it mean? The memories of German atrocities still live in the quiet village. How will this mysterious death impact the people and their quiet lives?

How you navigate the world of French bureaucracy is beyond me. All the phone calls to different offices, each in charge of something different. So you end up with too many hands in the pot or cooks in the kitchen. It makes for a crazy way to solve a crime. And all the new European Union Laws which have infringed on the lives of the villagers causing time-tested ways of life to be illegal creates an additional layer of stress.

There is Isabelle and the memory of Katarina, your long-lost love in Kosovo where you met her while serving on a peace keeping mission. But we all know, it was a war because there was no peace. Will Isabelle take away the sting of the lost love? Can you make it work having two careers or will she leave you for Paris? And then there is the mad Englishwoman. What about her is so captivating? Why is she living in France?

And finally there is your cooking and love of wine Bruno. You are a master in the kitchen and reminded me of the importance food plays in our lives. You teach us it’s key to pair the right wine with the food to enhance the flavors of both. You teach us memories are made and shared around the table. Good food, good wine and good friends make for a rich life. You are an orphan no more. Your roots are planted in St. Denis and these people are your family. As my own life has shifted greatly in the past three years because divorce uprooted me, I am now searching for my own St. Denis. I need a place where I can plant myself and grow. And if you have an empty chair at the table, can I come to dinner?

Bisous, Daphne