The fourth in a series (Birds of a Feather, 2004, etc.) of class-conscious World War II–era whodunits.
On a beastly cold winter day, London artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope is found dead in his gallery, where he had been erecting scaffolding for the mysterious pièce de résistance of his upcoming show. Scotland Yards rules Nick’s death an accident and closes the case. But his twin sister, Georgina, is convinced that there was foul play and hires psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs to look into the matter. Maisie spends the next several days acquainting herself with Nick’s high-brow family, his loyal friends, and the rich patrons who were interested in buying his work. She learns that Nick, while universally respected as a talented artist, also produced a body of evocative and even offensive work. Did his latest masterpiece, which he had kept hidden from even close family and friends, have the potential to shock and anger someone into murder? Other characters in his life are also suspicious. Nick’s older sister Nolly is a war widow who disapproved of his lifestyle and seems overly interested in his assets. His younger brother Harry is a derelict gambler who had gotten involved with the wrong crowd—one Scotland Yard is trailing far closer than Nick’s potential homicide. And even Georgina, a writer whom Maisie learns has been involved in a secret affair with Nick’s American patron—had recently been particularly competitive with her twin. As Maisie flits among the moneyed gentry of the Bassington-Hopes, she is all too aware of the growing chasm between their world and the rest of London. Her own assistant, Billy, can hardly pay for a doctor for his dying toddler, and his East End neighbors and relatives who came back from the war in France are largely jobless and homeless. Though the actual mystery is not as intricate Maisie’s previous adventures, Winspear makes up for it with careful, detailed treatment of the time period and its social issues.
Compassion and authenticity bolster the anemic suspense.