During the months following Britain's declaration of war on Germany during World War II, Maisie Dobbs investigates the disappearance of a young apprentice working on a hush-hush government contract and must contend with one of the London underworld's most powerful men trying to profit from wartime opportunism.
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.