In This Grave Hour is the new novel from author Jacqueline Winspear. It is the 13th novel in the series starring “psychologist and investigator,” Maisie Dobbs, a British nurse whose adventures take place during World War I and in the decades that follow. In this Grave Hour opens as Britain declares war on Nazi Germany and follows Maisie as she tries to solve a murder mystery with ties to World War I more than two decades earlier.
In This Grave Hour finds Maisie Dobbs leaving her garden flat and headed to the mansion home of her dear friend, Priscilla Partridge, and her family (who are like family to Maisie). It is Sunday, September 3rd 1939, and Maisie is gathering with the Partridges to hear a radio broadcast of a momentous speech from British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Britain is declaring war against Adolf Hitler's Germany.
Meanwhile, a senior Secret Service agent and longtime acquaintance of Maisie Dobbs, Dr. Francesca Thomas, has broken into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie. She wants Maisie to find the killer of Frederick Addens, a man who escaped German occupied Belgium (Francesca's native country) as a teen boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War (WWI). Maisie and her employees, Billy Beale and Sandra Pickering, begin the investigation in a London on war footing. Barrage balloons shadow the city, and children are evacuated out of London and into the countryside. There are few if any leads in the case, which seems to be stalked by the threat of more murders to come.
While she investigates the case of Addens, Maisie learns that her father, Frankie Dobbs, and her stepmother, Brenda, are billeting a little girl, Anna, in Maisie's home in Kent. The little girl does not speak, and it is unknown if she cannot or simply will not. Also, no one seems to know who put the child on the evacuee train before it left London.
THE LOWDOWN: I was vaguely familiar with the Maisie Dobbs novels when I was a member of a “book-of-the-month” club. I found the first Maisie novel I read, last year's Journey to Munich, a bit difficult to categorize, but it was quite an enjoyable read. The middle-aged Maisie Dobbs does not seem like the typical secret agent, and that is more or less what she is as she journeys to Munich on what is more or less a rescue mission.
In This Grave Hour is a straightforward murder mystery, although the novel deals with themes concerning family, such as the longing to have children and parent-child relationships. Much of the novel also concerns the evacuation of London and the preparation for war in the early days of Britain's declaration of war against Germany (although I think it was another year after Neville Chamberlain's speech before Germany launched an air raid on Britain).
In This Grave Hour is such a riveting and damn-good read because everything about it engages the reader. Although the killer of Frederick Addens is not revealed until the last chapter (Chapter 19), the reason for the murder (that it is tied to a specific time and event in the past) is fairly obvious. Still, getting to the resolution allows the readers to experience a wave of powerful emotions tied to themes of regret and sorrow, which actually makes for good reading.
The story of the little girl Anna is poignant and heartbreaking, and tugs on those old heart-strings when there is a sign of a positive ending. The war-preparation subplots are also grabbing, especially the ones that involve the children of Maisie's friends who are enlisting for some kind of military service.
I liked Journey to Munich, but In This Grave Hour easily surpasses it. This is some fucking good storytelling on the part of author, Jacqueline Winspear. I can't wait for the next Maisie Dobbs novel.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Fans of Maisie Dobbs, of World War II era novels, and of British mystery novels will want to spend time In This Grave Hour.