@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
It’s 1932, Maisie Dobbs’ third year in business as an “inquiry agent.” (That’s British for private detective.) As usual, Maisie’s life is complicated. Her assistant, Billy Beale, is working shorter hours to care for his wife, who has just been released from a mental asylum. Maisie’s beloved mentor and former employer, Dr. Maurice Blanche, is in declining health. And two attractive, wealthy men are pursuing her despite her reluctance to take time away from her work. Her agency is doing well even in the Depression. Then a friend she’d known from her service as a nurse in the Great War writes from America to ask that she help an American couple freshly arrived in London.
The Cliftons, it turns out, are in their late seventies. Edward Clifton had emigrated from England to the U.S. as a young man. There he built a huge property development business, in which their children are now assuming leadership. He and his wife just arrived from France, where the remains of their youngest son were uncovered in an old battlefield. Letters uncovered with his body reveal that the young man had had an affair with a young woman during the war. Maisie’s assignment is to locate her. But Maisie discovers almost immediately that the job isn’t just an old missing-persons case: a close reading of the autopsy report makes clear that Michael Clifton didn’t die in battle. He was murdered.
While spending time with the dying Maurice and navigating the attentions of two competing would-be husbands, Maisie sets out to determine who murdered Michael Clifton and identify his long-missing lover. Her investigation immerses her in the dynamics of the large and complicated Clifton family. Then, when the aged Cliftons are attacked in their hotel and left to die, Scotland Yard enters the scene. Maisie is then forced to collaborate with the detective who has caused a great deal of trouble for her in the past.
The Mapping of Love and Death is the seventh novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s delightful Maisie Dobbs series. (The reference to mapping in the title refers to Michael Clifton’s chosen profession as a cartographer and his work in a British Army cartography unit on the front lines in France.) As in its predecessors, World War I looms large in the background. Winspear deftly portrays the difficulty the English had to leave behind the terrible consequences of the war even a decade and a half later. However, the shocking conclusion to this novel reveals that future books in the series may take a turn toward the coming, Second World War. Given the skill she demonstrated in the first seven novels in the series, I’m looking forward to more from Jacqueline Winspear.