Each character is fashioned with care, and Maisie — whose history Winspear has revealed in this book’s predecessors — grows even more richly developed with each installment. A woman acquainted with sorrow but one who has emerged from its debilitating darkness, she possesses presence, rectitude and bravery that reflect the glory of her creator’s decency and grace. A novel that appeals equally to the intellect and the emotions, To Die but Once advances Maisie’s engaging story and reaffirms Winspear’s eminence in her field.
To Die but Once is told on a human scale, as Dobbs works to unearth a scheme of coercion, bribery, black marketeering and government fraud—all of which paint the boy’s death in a more sinister light. The wartime details (sandbags in front of shop fronts, blackout curtains, ambulance-driving classes) transport us with ease to a milieu where danger is omnipresent but—thanks to the presence of steadfast figures like Dobbs and her like-spirited colleagues—so is hope
Maisie, a woman working in what was at the time considered almost exclusively a man’s field, is a wonderful creation, representative of her era while being at the same time a thoroughly modern woman. The mystery in this book is cleverly designed, too, allowing the author to explore the environment in England in the early, quiet days of WWII—the so-called phony war, before the Blitz—and to explore England’s 1940s-era criminal underground. A first-rate historical mystery.
To Die But Once highlights the direct and indirect costs of war. Maisie Dobbs is always looking for truth and the underlying motives in her cases. Her stories are ones that this reviewer always wants to read because of her character, values and thoughts on life. And, because Jacqueline Winspear’s late father was also a young apprentice in 1940, she is able to draw on that experience to write a story about WWII and England that is close to the heart.
As the fourteenth novel in the series, To Die But Once reads almost mechanically. It’s as if there is a formula to the prose and all Winspear has to do is fill in the plot. But the ease of the novel is not to be construed as pedestrian or uninspired. Rather, reading it was akin to watching the next episode of a popular television drama: perhaps predictable, but nonetheless gripping ... The emotional impact of war is the more compelling plot in To Die But Once ... It is the appeal to Maisie’s character, one that readers have come to know fairly intimately, that drives the continuation of Windspear’s success.
The possible disappearance of a teenage boy drives bestseller Winspear’s so-so novel set in 1940 Britain ... he whodunit story line is often secondary to the larger historical picture—in particular, the British response to the retreat from Dunkirk and the threat of German invasion—and to developments in Maisie’s private life. A gratuitous closing contrivance doesn’t help. Still, Winspear fans will find much to like.