Britain teeters on the brink as World War II ramps up.
In May 1940, Maisie Dobbs—nurse, spy, psychologist, and enquiry agent—is caught up in the strange death of a local lad. Maisie’s life has been fraught with difficulty since the death of her husband in a plane crash and her subsequent miscarriage. She’s compensated for her anguish by plenty of daring deeds, including working as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War and as a spy in Hitler’s Germany. Just as she’s seeking to adopt Anna (In This Grave Hour, 2017, etc.), a refugee child living in her home in Kent, Maisie’s approached by local publican Phil Coombes, who’s desperately worried about his son Joe. Although only 15, he’s apprenticed to Yates and Sons, painters and decorators, and has been traveling the country applying a fire-retardant paint to air-base buildings. The paint has apparently given him massive headaches, and now he’s vanished. Maisie, who still has enough gas coupons to run her car, agrees to try tracking him down while her assistant, Billy Beale, checks out Yates. When Joe is found dead on the railroad tracks, the police think he probably jumped, but Maisie is suspicious even before the coroner finds a strange lesion in his brain. In truth, there’s something a bit off about the whole Coombes family. Their standard of living is a cut above what Maisie would expect their pub to provide. And when she discovers that Mrs. Coombes is the sister of a well-known and dangerous criminal, she becomes convinced that the government paint contract involves a nasty scam and uses all her contacts to search for the truth. Her life is made even more stressful when her godson and a friend steal off to Dunkirk to help rescue the desperate remnants of the British army trapped between the advancing Germans and the English Channel.
In addition to providing a very good mystery, Winspear does a smashing job describing the bravery exhibited by everyday Britons as the fear of invasion becomes ever more real.