Jacqueline Winspear has written 12 thrillers starring Maisie Dobbs.
Journey to Munich, the 12th installment in Bay Area author Jacqueline Winspear’s best-selling Maisie Dobbs series, proves Winspear particularly adroit on the high wire.
Mystery book authors perform on a tightrope. Suspended above danger or delight, they face readers who become attached to certain traits and resent when an author unleashes an unexpected twist in the book’s protagonist—often a detective, investigator or spy—and others who threaten to depart if things become too predictable. Delighting everyone is a feat.
Journey to Munich, the 12th installment in Bay Area author Jacqueline Winspear’s best-selling Maisie Dobbs series, proves Winspear particularly adroit on the high wire. If there’s danger, it’s found in the deception of historical facts that slide into the narrative without calling attention to the skilled writing and steep research behind their appearance. Or, Journey’s downside is in two compelling themes that threaten to dominate the simplistic plot that sometimes veers into unbelievability: Maisie’s grief after becoming a widow is thick and fascinating; the well-described tension of a community on the brink of war may leave a reader wishing for more of the same.
Journey has Maisie returning to her native England after a stint as a nurse in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. It’s 1938, and partly to escape the haunting memories of her husband, James, who died in a plane crash, she accepts a request from the British government to retrieve a man vital to Britain’s war plans. Leon Donat has been sent to Dachau. The secret service has agreed to the Germans’ demands that a family member be sent to secure his release. Maisie, returning to her work as an investigator and government operative, must pose as Donat’s daughter, Edwina Donat, who is too ill to travel. Adding to the tension of entering Nazi German with falsified documents and a wig that refuses to stay put, the man she believes is responsible for her husband’s death has asked her to locate his wayward daughter in Munich and convince her to return to England.
One of the distinct pleasures of the Dobbs’ series is the strong, spirited, central female character. Winspear never manipulates to appeal to 21st-century sensibilities: Maisie is simply historically accurate. Women just before and during World War II lost brothers, fathers, husbands, and other men in their lives, but they gained independence through employment, education, the freedom to dress differently, and more. If Maisie’s ruminations are sometimes overly romantic, or her actions predictable; if a male character falls into cliché caveman mode, there are enough corkscrew corners in the plot and layered thinking from the characters to hold interest. And Winspear provides a simple lesson for aspiring mystery writers: Achieving balance is everything.
Journey to Munich: A Maisie Dobbs Novel, by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper, March 2016, 304 pp. $26.99).
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.