Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: In This Grave Hour

Summary: Sunday September 3rd 1939. At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain’s declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgium as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War. In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered. And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the “last war," a new kind of refugee — an evacuee from London — appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie’s home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know who the child belongs to or who might have put her on the “Operation Pied Piper” evacuee train. They know only that her name is Anna.

As Maisie’s search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come. Britain is approaching its gravest hour — and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own. -- Harper

Through the years, I have reviewed almost every Maisie Dobbs book that Jacqueline Winspear has written. There probably isn't a whole lot more for me to say. I look forward to each and every one of these novels; and the latest, IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, is another example of an excellent mystery. I absolutely adored this book, and I will never tire of Ms. Dobbs' adventures.

IN THIS GRAVE HOUR takes place in England during the outbreak of World War II. In fact, one of the first scenes is the famous announcement by Prime Minister Chamberlain declaring war against Germany. Maisie, who runs her own detective agency, is asked by a Secret Service agent to assist in finding out who was responsible for the murder of a man who immigrated to England from Belgium during World War I.

As London is preparing for attacks from Germany, Maisie is busy trying to gather clues about this man's past. However, another man, also a Belgium refugee, is found murdered; and Maisie begins to think that these men's murders are linked. Maisie's investigation leads her to discover interesting ties between a group of men who came to England from Belgium when they were just boys. Meanwhile, Maisie is dealing with refugee issues relating to the current war. Children are billeted at Maisie's home in the country, and one little girl named Anna, who won't speak, has definitely captured Maisie's interest!

I loved IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, but as I mentioned earlier, that's not a surprise. Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite characters in literature, and Ms. Winspear is one of my favorite mystery authors. If you are familiar with this series, then you already know what a wonderful job the author does of bringing this time period to life; and you also know how complex of a character Maisie is. I think that the vast majority of my understanding of England in both World War I and World War II come from these books. (Guess how I prefer to get my history lessons!)

I found the mystery of these murders of these Belgium refugees to be really interesting, and I honestly didn't have a clue where the story was going. I learned a long time ago not to try to figure out the mysteries in these books because it's much more enjoyable to just go along with Maisie and her investigating skills. Suffice it to say that I was surprised by the outcome and I wouldn't have been able to figure out this culprit no matter how hard I tried!

As intriguing as the mystery was, I still think the strength of this novel lies in Maisie and her character development. Maisie has experienced so much trauma and heartbreak since the first novel (and actually even before that!), so the reality of war is especially terrifying for her. I thought the author did a great job of making Maisie's fears real as well as bringing some of the effects of her past life experiences to the forefront.

One thing I always appreciate is how Ms. Winspear ties together storylines from Maisie's past with the present, I appreciate even more how she ties the various storylines together within the same book. In the case of IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, one of the main recurring themes was the issue of refugees. (Do I even need to say how relevant parts of this story are to what's going on in today's world?) Ms. Winspear outdid herself in tying together the story about the Belgium men who were refugees as children with the plight of Anna, the young girl who was living at Maisie's country house.

As a fan of Maisie, I also appreciated how Anna brought out Maisie's maternal instincts. I don't want to give too much away about Maisie's past (and the other novels), but Maisie is a widow and has never had any children. When she meets Anna and realizes that they have no idea where Anna comes from or truly anything about her family, Maisie immediately wants to learn more about this girl. It makes sense given her occupation as a private detective, but it also shows that even Maisie isn't exempt from falling for a little girl.

If you are new to the series, you can definitely pick up IN THIS GRAVE HOUR and you'd be fine. Ms. Winspear does a great job of making these books work as stand-alone novels, but I would have to  recommend reading the entire series. These books are just so good and the way the author ties the books together is really something special. The mysteries definitely work on their own, but the character development as well as Europe's changes during the wars are extremely interesting to follow throughout the series.

Many years ago, my book club read and discussed the first book in the Maisie Dobbs series. This was a time when most book clubs didn't pick mysteries to discuss. It was a fantastic selection and we had so much to discuss. That's because these books are so deep on so many levels. IN THIS GRAVE HOUR would also make a great selection. There is a reading guide available with thirteen intriguing questions. Some of the themes you might want explore include grief, fear, challenges of refugees, memory, family, sacrifice, empathy, and anger.

IN THIS GRAVE HOUR is a terrific mystery and also a relevant novel in today's world. I was entertained and provided with some food for thought. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I'm sure my mom will love this book!