“The whiff of wealth can make even the most dull eloquent.”Traveling in her beloved MG from Chelstone to London and back again, Maisie Dobbs is hardly surprised
to learn that the fortunes of Michael Clifton, a young American cartographer,
are encapsulated in this natural order of wealth and privilege. An adventurer and entrepreneur, Michael had owned a plot of land in the San Ynes Valley, California.
sailing to England to fight for the Allied cause, Michael’s remains were found in a narrow trench in a
French field back in 1916. Now eighteen years have passed, and his parents, Edward and Martha Clifton,
pay a visit Maisie Dobb’s office in Fitzroy Square, sent by a family friend Dr. Charles Haydon.
Apparently a batch of letters were buried with Michael, written in a hand
that seems to belong to a woman. Edward and Martha are positive their deceased son had a liaison with a girl
during the war. Together with a journal kept by Michael, the pages of the letters
- fused with damp and foxed with age - are signed “The English Nurse.” Enthusiastically, Maisie takes up the task of identifying the letter writer, the girl who perhaps knew Edward and Martha’s
beloved son when he was such a great distance from them.
Maisie’s first order of business is to visit her mentor, the ailing Maurice Blanche, at his home in Chelstone. She shows him Michael Clifton’s postmortem report, and
Maurice reminds Maisie “that the body never lies.” Michael was wounded at the back of his head by a heavy object at close range, murdered not by war but by a “personal foe,” the
fatal object perhaps a theodolite, a hefty piece of equipment used for surveying or engineering work.
Soon enough events conspire to turn the case violent. Terrible news arrives from Billy that Edward and Martha were violently attacked in their hotel room and left for dead. While Martha
hovers at death’s door, Detective Inspector Caldwell is convinced that Maisie knows who did it. The net is cast wide as Maisie
is educated in the practices of a wartime cartographer’s surveying party to find out who they were and how they worked. Michael’s journal entries offer hidden clues
and loose threads of information as Maurice’s words continue to echo in Maisie's mind: “the evidence is always between the lines, look between the lines, whether it is written or not.”
In a dashingly charming assortment of love and murder, 1920’s England is bought vividly to life as Winspear once again gives compelling voice to her
intrepid investigator. Maisie finds herself blushing at the attentions of the dashingly handsome James Compton while helping Billy and his wife, Doreen, find a way through the barren desert of despair to something approaching a better way of life.
Sly and creative, the author continues with her compelling portrait of a young lady forced to make her way in a world for which there
is no set of directions and where no case proves too extreme. Throughout, Maisie captures us with her warm heart and good soul.
Her fingers perpetually on the pulse, Maisie is a true heroine, unearthing the secrets of Michael’s past, an accomplished mapmaker and artist, in this novel of long-lost cousins and a secretwar time love that remains elusive right until the end.