In An Incomplete Revenge, the plucky and inimitable Maisie Dobbs, a woman of no certain substance, returns to solve a series of petty crimes and inexplicable fires that have been plaguing the quaint town of Heronsdene in rural Kent. Maisie's investigation begins in London when she meets the dashing James Compton, head of the wealthy Compton Corporation, who informs her there's some "funny business" going on down at the Sandermere Estate.
The Compton Corporation wishes to place a purchase offer on the estate, but James is hearing doubts about the landowner, a man called Alfred Sandermere, the younger son of Lord Sandermere, who became heir to the estate when his older brother Henry was killed in the Great War. Apparently, Alfred has done nothing but draw funds from the estate, leaving it on the verge of bankruptcy. "It's essentially a fire sale," James tells Maisie, and there's nothing more than the Compton Corporation likes than "a clean transaction."
The petty crime and vandalism in the house, and at the accompanying brickworks, are in danger of jeopardizing the sale. Even stranger is that
the local villagers are keeping quiet about it with no one especially hurrying
to point a finger. Trusted with the job of finding out if there's anything amiss locally that would affect James' purchase of the Sandermere estate, Maisie travels to Heronsdene with her faithful
Cockney assistant, Billy Beale, whom she entrusts to do much of the initial legwork.
A center for the summer season of hop-picking, Heronsdene proves to be anything but bucolic for Maisie.
The initial drive through the village causes her to shiver, the hair on her back bristling with uncertainty. Soon enough her fears are confirmed, and she develops a portrait of an area filled with a bitter dissent between James Sandermere, the local villagers, the incoming workers from London, and the
Gypsies who have come for the hop-picking season while they live in their whitewashed hopper huts on the edges of the estate.
Billy discovers that the locals are pretty quick to blame these Gypsies for all the manner of ills that have plagued this community.
When he befriends Beulah Webb, the Gypsy matriarch, he finds that "death is walking among the townsfolk of Heron," and there's nothing that Beulah
- or anyone else, for that matter - can do "to prevent such a fate."
When Maisie and Billy learn that two young London boys have recently been arrested, apparently for stealing from the Sandermere Estate, the case seems to be a forgone conclusion. But are the boys really guilty of breaking and entering? And if they are, how is the crime linked to the other events described to her by James Compton? And what of Heronsdene, with its constant dour mood, where the village folk are so tight-knit that they fail to report damage to their property by fire?
Maisie finds herself caught up in a race against time to locate the stolen goods and find out who might have conducted the burglaries and the fires in the first place. But she also wonders about this commission from James Compton, the case made even more puzzling as James's mother, the Lady Rowan Compton, is the original supporter and sponsor of Maisie's education and initially suggested that her son contact Maisie regarding the latest purchase of the Sandermere land.
Author Jacqueline Winspear embeds her vividly rendered Depression-era story with a veritable witch's brew of half-truths that have been hidden from view since the end of the Great War.
The townsfolk of Heronsdene constantly look over their shoulders, waiting for the ghosts to see them in the form of the three members of the Martin family, apparently killed in a sudden zeppelin raid in 1916.
This event as much as the loss of the town's young men to the War seems to have been a catalyst for a change of heart.
Even the chills of prejudice and the scars of battle can't escape the fiercely independent Maisie, who in the course of the story must come to terms with her
own Gypsy ancestry while grappling with the tragic circumstances of her beloved beau, Simon, whom she eternally holds within her heart, the wounds from the Great War
having taken his mind. She worries too about her dear father, Frankie, who after twenty-one years still mourns his wife, the ache of loneliness for her company perpetually reflected in his eyes.
With the clues ultimately hanging on the origin of a rare violin, the surprising Dutch ancestry of the Martin family, and the insufferable Sandermere, who holds enormous power over the community and may even be embezzling his insurance company, the events of the novel twist and turn, moving from London to Kent and back to London as the path is eventually cleared for absolution by the villagers.
The author beautifully entrenches Maisie, indeed all of her characters, within the haunting the landscapes of 1931.
With labor lines growing, factories closing, and the country in the grip of despair from the Great Depression, forgiveness seems to shine as Maisie's genuine optimism and hope provides the necessary elixir for the wounded souls she encounters throughout the course of her investigation.