To Die But Once

Written by Jacqueline Winspear
Review by Marina Maxwell

Although WW2 has broken out, in London it is the lull before the storm when everyone is prepared for attack but nothing much is happening. Across the English Channel, however, it is a different story, and the British Expeditionary Force is pinned down on the beaches of France against the German onslaught. Soon the Admiralty will call on the general public to lend all sea-going craft to the rescue effort.

In this tense atmosphere, Maisie Dobbs takes up her latest case. Young Joe Coombes, an apprentice working on a secret contract to paint RAF bases, seems to have gone missing, and his parents, pub-owners Phil and Sally, who run Maisie’s “local,” are worried. It is possible that Joe’s increasingly debilitating headaches could be linked to something toxic in the fire-retardant paint. Meanwhile, Tim, the headstrong teenage son of Maisie’s friend, Priscilla, decides to join the rescue mission to Dunkirk. Maisie is set a hectic pace to uncover the truth about Joe while helping Priscilla and also trying to resolve legal issues around the little war refugee, Anna.

The secondary story involving Tim’s exploits is powerful enough in its own right, and with the additional diversions into Anna’s situation, the drama of the prime case involving graft and corruption in government contracts tends to lose its dynamism to some extent. But this is still another rewarding tale in the series with all the trademarks that fans have come to expect: historic authenticity and an unusual plotline with sympathetic psychological undertones plus the group of regular leading characters who have their own charms and quirks. As usual, to get the best out of this enthralling series, it is recommended that the titles are read in sequence.