Cover image of "Pardonable Lies" by Jacqueline Winspear, a novel about the legacy of war

Before the advent of World War II, the “Great War” — World War I, the “war to end all wars” — was the most tragic event in modern history. Earlier, Attila’s rampage through Asia and Europe was probably more traumatic. However, in the early decades of the twentieth century, as the Continent’s best and bravest young men fell by the hundreds of thousands in one pointless battle after another, scarcely any observer could imagine a worse fate for civilization. And, in a way, the legacy of this conflict was equally bad.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The shadows cast by war

It’s easy to see how those events could have cast such long shadows over the later years of the unfolding twentieth century. The subsequent history of every major combatant nation, and every new sovereign state created out of the wreckage of the war, was shaped in large part by the blunders and miscalculations of that terrible event. So were the lives of so many millions in Britain, Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and China. Increasingly, historians of the twentieth century are inclined to suggest that the two world wars are more properly seen as a latter-day Thirty Years’ War, a singular event marked by a brief and turbulent pause in hostilities.

Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear ★★★★☆

Living the legacy of war

In her series featuring the “Psychologist and Investigator” Maisie Dobbs, the English mystery writer Jacqueline Winspear dwells at length on the legacy of World War I. Pardonable Lies, the third novel in the series, is grounded in that theme, as are both of her previous books. Set in 1930, a dozen years after hostilities ended, Maisie, her now brain-dead fiancee, her assistant, her best friend, her mentor, and virtually every other major character in the novel bears deep scars from the conflict. As the Great Depression gathered steam, it was impossible to live in England and not be deeply affected by the staggering cost of the war.

A detective unlike any other

Maisie Dobbs is a detective unlike any other. Trained over many years by the mysterious and brilliant French physician, Maurice Blanche, and by Khan, the aging South Asian mystic he sent her to, Maisie has been imbued with such lessons as “seeing was not necessarily something one did with the eyes; there was a depth of vision to be gained from stillness . . .” In Pardonable Lies, Maisie puts teaching such as this to the test, outmaneuvering Scotland Yard and cleverly sidestepping several threats to her life.

After a long apprenticeship with Dr. Blanche, Maisie is now well-established in a practice of her own. She is supported by her resourceful assistant, Billy Beale, a former soldier who has finally left the wounds of war behind. Together, the pair take up two parallel and similar investigations, one official, the other a favor for Maisie’s best friend, Patricia Evernden Partridge. In both cases, Maisie must return to France to determine what became of two promising young men, both of whom were reported missing and presumably killed in the war. In their own ways, all three characters are living the legacy of World War I. And Winspear skillfully weaves the stories of their lives and the two plotlines together, converging in a highly satisfying climax. Pardonable Lies is a satisfying read both as historical fiction and as a mystery story.

About the author

Though born and educated in England, Jacqueline Winspear has lived in the United States since 1990. The first two novels in the Maisie Dobbs series both won the Agatha Award; the next two, including Pardonable Lies, were nominated for the same award. She began writing the series in 2003. Her most recent novel was published in 2016.

I’ve reviewed all the novels in this series at The Maisie Dobbs novels from Jacqueline Winspear.

My review of Maisie Dobbs, the first novel in the series, is at A female detective like no other. The second, Birds of a Feather, is here: The cost of war hangs over the action like a shroud.

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