Nazis, pacifists, and spies in 1930s Britain

pacifists: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

December 1932. Adolf Hitler is agitating to become Chancellor of Germany as his following grows. Many Britons, too, especially the aristocracy, are finding a lot to like in Herr Hitler and his Nazi Party. In increasing numbers, they are campaigning to resist any effort by the United Kingdom to go to war with Nazi Germany—a war that many wiser heads are already predicting. The Nazis and the Fascists are joined by many pacifists. But Maisie Dobbs is not among them. She abhors the anti-Semitism of the Nazis as well as the home-grown Fascists and regards pacifism as naive. But more mundane concerns preoccupy her.


A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs #8) by Jacqueline Winspear

@@@@ (4 out of 5)


Maisie’s business as a “private inquiry agent” is growing, making for more work than she and her assistant, Billy Beale, can comfortably handle. Her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, has willed most of his considerable estate to her. She’s now a wealthy woman. But Maisie is not happy. Her aging father stubbornly refuses to move into the large house she has inherited from Maurice. James Compton, the man who is “courting” her, has postponed his return from Canada. And now she discovers that she is being followed wherever she goes.

After eluding the three-person team who is tailing her, Maisie surprises (and embarrasses) them. Learning that they’re police officers from Special Branch at New Scotland Yard, she demands they take her to their boss, Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane.

When Maisie arrives at MacFarlane’s office, she soon learns that she was being followed as a test of her ability to detect a tail. And a surprise visitor soon arrives in the office: Brian Huntley, a senior officer in the Secret Service. The Chief Superintendent has undertaken the exercise in collaboration with Huntley. In short order, Maisie learns that her life and work are about to take a radical turn, as Maurice had predicted shortly before his death.

Huntley presses her to sign the Official Secrets Act and then describes her strange assignment. She is to apply for a position as a lecturer in philosophy at a private college in Cambridge. The College of St. Francis, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, is attracting students from all around Europe. The Secret Service will ensure that she gets the job. Her assignment is merely to keep her eyes and ears open, looking for anything suspicious that may turn up at the college.

Not long after Maisie takes up her job, she finds an abundance of suspicious activity among the pacifists on the faculty. And then the founder and head of the college is murdered in his office. In A Lesson in Secrets, Jacqueline Winspear’s eighth Maisie Dobbs novel, Maisie becomes involved in the murder investigation and in uncovering a growing Nazi threat. The story is suspenseful, engaging, and full of surprises. It’s a delight for any fan of the series—and for anyone who seeks out mysteries and thrillers that avoid the violence and gore so prevalent in the genre.

For further reading

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

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For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

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