Love, when so you're loved again.
As we wait for a televised treatment of Winspear's series, we must settle for The American Agent. This latest installment features the indefatigable Maisie Dobbs investigating the murder of 23-year-old American journalist Catherine Saxon. Catherine wanted to become one of "Murrow's boys," the current crop of American reporters based in London--who like the famous Edward R. Murrow--are using their voice to influence American involvement in the war in a country where the tide for its participation is beginning to turn.
It is the night of September 10, 1940. Maisie and her best friend, Pricilla Partridge, are taking a break from working in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service. While listening to the wireless, Maisie gets a phone call from colleague Robbie MacFarlane. Catherine has been found dead in her rented room. Stymied by the killer's motivation, Maisie (together with loyal Billy and Sandra) enlists the help of Mark Scott, the handsome US Consulate General who continues to "keep cover" for Maisie. Had Catherine upset anyone? As a "Murrow reporter," she could have been disappointing a lot of people.
Winspear connects Maisie's investigation of Catherine's murder with her place in war's broader canvas, how "poor little Britain" is desperately trying to hold the fort against the increasing Nazi bombardment. London is under siege, from the sandbagged buildings and barrage balloons to homes that are now nothing more than "smoking rubble." Then Priscilla is gravely injured. Maisie wonders about Mark Scott's remit in London. Has Catherine's death provided the accomplished American agent with some sort of "useful camouflage."
The Welbeck Street tenants shed little light on Catherine's last moments. According to Polly Harcourt, Catherine was "a lovely person." Isobel Chalmers and Pamela Lockwood both thought Catherine was ambitious, a hard worker, a woman "set on adventure" but tempered with a certain understanding of the reality of her work and her compassion to tell a story. Catherine wanted to touch the hearts of her readers and listeners.
Maisie searches for the killer, hoping they'll make the error that will reveal his or her identity. A constantly restless Maisie worries about meeting with the authorities over the adoption of her beloved Anna. Ricocheting between Catherine's death and Priscilla's injury, surrounded by flames, Maisie thinks of Pricilla's son, Tom, in his Hurricane, taking on the Luftwaffe fighters. Back at the relative safety of Chelstone, Maisie's father, Frankie, mother-in law Brenda, and lovely, innocent Anna spend sleepless nights, unnerved by the sound of bombers returning to Berlin after dropping their last payload of slaughters upon London.
Maisie feels a duty to Catherine, a girl who risked her life to tell London's story. Maisie wonders, not for the first time, whether Catherine's death was caused by her decision to paint a picture of Britain's plight in the minds of people living thousands of miles away. Though Maisie is haunted by her physical wounds, her soul aches for the child she never had as well as for long-gone James. Are Masie and Scott being pulled together by war and by all the death and destruction around them? Is whatever they feel for each other an affirmation of life itself during a time when so much is being lost?
Despite the horrors of the Blitz, it's really only in the last chapters that Catherine's bifurcated past is revealed. An absorbing mystery with Winspear's usual flurry of twists, the story is a scarily nuanced examination of long-term struggle and a beautifully conceived metaphor for a country under siege, with Maisie always at the helm.