"Love must be cradled gently.""Like big death-dealing insects," the German bombers blacken the sky. Young Freddie Hackett, a moving target, keeps running. The man ahead is illuminated by a bomber's moon and the falling incendiaries. There's shouting, then the two men are struggling, hanging onto each other. Crowded in the doorway, Freddie spies a big bloke who "looks like a film star." More flashes of light, then Freddie sees the snarling man push the knife straight into the other man's left side. Though he's standing right in front of the killer, could Freddie have imagined it all? Could he have been wrong about witnessing a murder? Might he have been mistaken?
Thus begins another Maisie Dobbs mystery, in which our beloved private investigator is plunged into a case that sometimes seems far from the podiums and big historical moments of the London Blitz. War isn't just the setting. Maisie, her family and her friends often reckon with the costs of war, but they also tend to struggle with their own fears about it. This is especially true of Maisie who, as the novel opens, is about to collect daughter Anna from school, both happily ensconced for now in the relative safety of Kent.
From the Dower House at Chelstone Manor to her office in London, Maisie's thoughts drift to Maurice Blanche, her mentor since girlhood, and to her father and stepmother, who have become steady fixtures in Anna's life. Maisie worries about best friend Priscilla--with one son in the RAF and another having lost an arm at Dunkirk--as well as Brenda, Lord Julian and Lady Rowen. Maisie also fears making a commitment to handsome American diplomat Mark Scott. Maisie's loyal assistant, Billy Beale, has an extended role to play in this outing. Billy shepherds a message to Maisie from young Freddie: "poor kid reckons he saw a man murdered a few nights ago, knifed." The copper laughed at him; told him he'd been seeing things, nothing there.
As Maisie plunges into Freddie's case, Winspear conveys the abruptness of danger--you're safe until you're not--while just around a corner, death always seems to wait. Maisie knows Freddie was a runner for the various secret services and would likely have been tasked with delivering messages to the "Free French" who have their own intelligent services. She soon discovers, however, that the French are not happy with the British landing agents in France. The investigation is further complicated by Robbie McFarlane, whose secrets so entwine Maisie that sometimes she feels as if she might drown under their weight.
Tasked with assessing the current crop of intelligence agents, about to embark on the dangerous mission behind the enemy lines, Maisie is asked by McFarlane to interview two candidates in particular: Pascale, Priscilla's niece, and Elinor Jones, now trained as a radio operator. Elinor is enthusiastic about being sent to her country: "Hitler is trying to starve us out. If I can do just one thing to slow down his progress, then I shall do it." Meanwhile, Freddie's dangerous encounter plunges Maisie into the orbit of elegant Gabriella Hunter, "a woman with bearing." An old colleague of Maurice, Gabriella knows that Maisie had fallen into "a dark tunnel" and is plagued by the "unknown." She tells Maisie that the war will be over one day. What Maisie does now will pave the way for how she will live in peace: "Never let fear get in the way of happiness."
Winspear's series is so effective not the least because she eschews the "torn-flag-waving-boldly-in-the-rubble" kind of patriotism often typical of war narratives. Luckily, The Consequences of Fear (and also the other outings during this time period) avoids this in favor of characters like Maisie who are just trying to get by. Maisie's work has to be kept hidden - from her child, her father, her stepmother, her best friend, and her lover. All the while, Freddie's case aligns like "a jigsaw puzzle." Maisie can picture the scene of the murder, the items found at the site, the house where Freddie delivered a message to a man with scars across his face, and her time in Scotland. Accompanying McFarlane there, Maisie meets French Major Andre Chaputa, a prime suspect in a second murder. Danger is ever-present in Maisie's world. No one is safe, even amid the bucolic fields, forests, orchards and hop gardens of Kent.
Though there's a lot of heartbreak and tragedy in this story, life for Maisie must go on. There's always her work, which she sometimes likens to creating a patchwork quilt: "each square of fabric represented another piece of information of intelligence." As Maisie's thoughts ricochet among Freddie, Elinor, Pascale and Priscilla, she tries to keep her fears in check for Anna and Mark. A loyal, courageous, everyday heroine, Maisie's endless fortitude is shaped just so in the face of horrific events where, again and again, her fears force her to keep close to her heart those she desperately loves.