Wednesday, July 01, 2020

“Pardonable Lies” by Jacqueline Winspear – Missing in the Skies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear (Book cover)
Jacqueline Winspear will likely never run out of adventures to send her beloved Maisie Dobbs on, and in Pardonable Lies she sends her to solve a mystery pulling her back into the First World War.

A deathbed plea leads Maisie on the search of a pilot, Ralph Lawton, whose disappearance and supposed death in the war never convinced his mother. As she digs through the ruins of the past, she unearths dangers and answers in equal measure.

Jacqueline Winspear Stirs the Battlefield

Apart from claiming innumerable lives in its wake, wars also tend to leave many questions and mysteries behind, most of them destined to be ground into nothingness by the ceaseless passage of time.

The ghosts of war are never easy to wake and sort through, but it's exactly what Maisie Dobbs has to do in her latest investigation, in the third novel of the series by Jacqueline Winspear titled Pardonable Lies.

With her life moving on from her previous case, Maisie is trying to make the most of herself in world still reeling and recovering from the shock of the biggest war mankind had ever seen.

Though she has many painful memories of her own to deal with, they'll have to take a bit of a back seat to the request of Sir Cecil Lawton, seeking Maisie's aid following a deathbed plea from his own wife.

As it turns out, Agnes Lawton never made peace with the idea of her aviator son Ralph having disappeared and died in the war; she never got the proof she was looking for. The torment led her to some dark places and the very edge of madness itself, to the point where she sees Maisie as her last and only chance to find out the truth, whatever it might be.

Thus, our psychologist and investigator embarks on a mystery rooted in the phantoms of the war, and in the process of trying to find out what really happened to Ralph Lawton, she finds herself inching ever closer to a very real and lethal danger.

With her own painful scars and memories to contend with as well, Jacqueline is about to dive into what is by far her most perilous adventure to date.

A Complex Aftermath in Pardonable Lies

For those who are new to the Maisie Dobbs Mysteries series, I would first like to assure you the novels can be enjoyed as standalone books, so no prior knowledge is absolutely required to draw enjoyment from them.

Second, if you are indeed familiar with the series already, rest assured you can expect a return of the author's extensive and profound descriptions of European society at the start of the twenty-first century.

Set right after the First World War, I would venture to say this is as much a historical exposition and study of post-war society as it is a mystery novel. Winspear dedicates quite a few paragraphs to try and capture the true atmosphere of France and Britain after the war, and the reality faced by the countless people who had lost friends, relatives and loved ones in the conflict.

While some authors, much to my disdain, tend to use euphemisms or heroic depictions of war, Winspear goes the exact opposite route, evoking the horrors of those days through the kinds of little details which seem to pierce your brain and forever stay in the back of your mind.

Winspear's prose is as precise and powerful as ever, easily evoking ghastly images and drawing us into a world being slowly forgotten by our civilization, intent on always moving forward, even pointlessly.

What puts Winspear's depiction of a post-war climate a step above its peers, in my opinion, is how it often pushes you to try and visualize how the people think, to understand their train of thought, and to draw parallels to the world of today. Many people, me included, believe we can learn much about the present by looking at our past, and this novel certainly follows this line of thinking.

The Mastery of Suspense

Whereas many authors would have likely contented themselves with writing a historical expose, for Winspear it's only one part of the equation. She never loses sight of the fact her novel is, before anything, a suspenseful mystery thriller, and delivers on this front on a consistent basis from start to finish.

To begin with, the first case only marks the start of the adventure, and two more soon pile up on Maisie, forcing her to essentially follow three lines of inquiry at once. I thought at first this would end up being a bit much, but Winspear proved herself quite capable of juggling multiple plot lines and using them at the correct times to keep a certain momentum going.

In other words, from start to finish, there are always answers to be found, and more questions to be answered. If there is one thing you cannot accuse this book of, it's being dull.

The stakes are also raised from Maisie's previous adventures, with somebody now actively trying to end her life on multiple occasions. Add to this the fact she is forced to contend with her own personal demons from the war, and you have an effective recipe for book-long suspense as well as character development, at least as far as the main character is concerned.

The mysteries themselves also end up having satisfying conclusions, which isn't always an easy task when the path towards the resolution ends up being so convoluted.

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear (Book cover)
While the finale might not be the strongest part of the book, it's still far above average quality... and besides, this is one of those novels I'd qualify as being more about the chase than the catch.

The Final Verdict

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear continues in the path laid forth by the first two books in the Maisie Dobbs Mysteries series, masterfully combining a suspenseful and multi-pronged mystery with a memorable and evocative description of post-WWI society.

If you enjoyed the previous books, or are simply looking for a solid historical mystery set right after the First World War, I'd say this novel would be the perfect fit for you.

Jacqueline Winspear (Author)

Jacqueline Winspear

Personal site

Jacqueline Winspear is a mystery author hailing from the United Kingdom, best-known for writing the Maisie Dobbs Series, taking place after WWI and following the titular inspector's investigations across over fourteen books at this point.

The first novel in the series, Maisie Dobbs, earned her numerous award nominations, Such as the Edgar Award for Best Novel and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Additionally, she was also a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2015.

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