Part murder mystery, part image of England during the rise Hitler‘s Third Reich, Winspear’s novel moves far beyond the Great War to the early 1930s in a unique blend of rich and poor.
The drama begins at the un-unionized paper factory of Bookhams, where an accident involving innocent Eddie Pettit sends the seeds of murder rippling outward long after the local Lambeth police refuse to get involved.
Eddie’s long-suffering mother, Maudie Pettit,
watches hopefully for a son who will never return. Her heart breaks at the news that her dear Eddie, so gentle and a little slow, was once again being bullied by Jimmie Merton. Older than Eddie but of his ilk, apparently Jimmy had lately come to work at Bookhams and caused gentle giant Eddie to suddenly change his behavior.
A group of London street men have come to see professional investigator Maisie Dobbs, concerned that Eddie’s death was no accident, but something far more insidious. No one cared about Eddie, so who would want to see him dead? While Eddie was far from the activist type, Maisie is convinced that his demise has something to do with wealthy newspaper magnate John Otterburn, who recently bought Bookhams after
emigrating from Canada.
Maisie cuts her teeth on the twists and turns of the shattered streets of London as she attempts to discover the truth about Eddie. While Otterburn has promised a full inquiry into the accident, Maisie is sure there’s a connection when she discovers that Otterburn has a finger in many pies.
The threads of the investigation intimate that this exceedingly wealthy man has become a vital lynch-pin in the dangerous marriage between business and politics.
From the fragile bereaved mother--herself no more than a girl when she gave birth to Eddie--to various working-class characters aged beyond years by work, worry, and grief, to the men who jump-start the inquiry
(and are a little embarrassed asking for help from a woman), we see Maisie still reeling after the death of her longtime mentor, Maurice Blanche.
Now a woman of considerable means, Maisie lives most of the time with her lover, James, at the Compton family’s grand manor house at Ebury Place. Yet she has discovered that her own prejudices are perhaps part of the reason why she and James have begun to flounder in a relationship that seemed to start well but has rapidly disintegrated into a series of broken expectations. While Maisie and James’s love for each other is without question, part of Maisie’s current dilemma is that she refuses to let go of her humble beginnings.
Between the desperate need of people in Lambeth, the dark underside of London's poor and disenfranchised dockworkers
and the country estates of the rich and privileged, Maisie finds herself loathing the inequity of it all.
In her most accomplished outing yet, Winspear broadens her major theme--the shifting allegiances of class--as aeroplane sketches and an inquisitive reporter are tied to the machinations of John Otterburn,
and Winston Churchill. Maisie can’t stop helping those she perceives are in need: her loyal scout, Billy, viciously attacked early on in the story; and her trusting secretary Sandra, who is trying to rebuild and rediscover her independence.
When a disturbing twist puts Eddie’s death into a much more chilling landscape, Maisie finds herself drawn to the edge of disaster that takes place in a much larger historical context. While the tale is very much the journey of one woman, it is also
describes a world on the cusp of catastrophic change as Maisie and James find themselves hurtling towards events that not even they could imagine.