To Die but Once

To Die but Once, the 14th installment in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, is set in a tense London, as England is preparing for imminent invasion. Maisie and her loyal assistant Billy are drawn into an unusual case when a local publican, Phil Coombes, comes to Maisie with concerns about his 15-year-old son, Joe. The boy was lucky enough to get a reserved job, with no fears of military service; however, Coombes senses that something is wrong with Joe, who has been complaining of terrible headaches for weeks, and who missed his usual call home.

Maisie and Billy discover Joe was working on a hush-hush contract: painting the buildings of Britain's many burgeoning airfields with fire-retardant paint. Soon after, the body of a teenage boy is found near a train station, and a mysterious black car begins following Maisie--coincidence? Adding to the stress of the case are Billy's worries about his two sons; one of whom who has joined the army already and another who wants to. Maisie also harbors concerns for Anna, the orphaned refugee girl she hopes to adopt, who's staying in the country with her parents.

With her gentle wit, Winspear aptly captures the tension of these months, as the horrible events of Dunkirk unfold, and Maisie finds herself tested to her emotional limits by the various plights of her clients, family and friends. Her empathetic nuances make To Die but Once a joy to read, in spite of its sometimes sad subject matter. Historical fiction admirers are sure to devour the latest entry in this delightful historical mystery series. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

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