Cover image of "A Sunlit Weapon," a novel about the women pilots of World War II

In Jacqueline Winspear’s 17th Maisie Dobbs novel, the brilliant “psychologist and investigator” meets the world-famous wife of the President of the United States. But that meeting is a long way off as the story opens. And how it comes about is a complex tale involving the women pilots of Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the US Army Air Forces. A Sunlit Weapon, with its tight focus on the women pilots of World War II, sparkles with the same verve and attention to period detail of the best previous entries in Jacqueline Winspear’s popular Maisie Dobbs series.

The First Lady visits Britain

In the autumn of 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spent nearly a month in Britain. She inspected factories, shipyards, hospitals, schools, bomb shelters, military bases, and many other facilities in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The spirit of the British people, “she wrote FDR on October 25, ‘is something to bow down to.'” And when Maisie meets her shortly after her arrival in England, she finds the older woman as impressive as her reputation. But a lot more happens in Maisie’s life in the days leading up to that memorable event.

A Sunlit Weapon (Maisie Dobbs #17) by Jacqueline Winspear (2022) 327 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on a factory visit in this novel about the women pilots of World War II
Eleanor Roosevelt speaking with a woman machinist in Britain in October 1942. Image: Library of Congress

The backstory

It’s 1942. Maisie has finished her work vetting undercover agents for the SOE. She’s remarried now to Mark Scott, a political attaché at the American Embassy in London. They’re raising Maisie’s adopted seven-year-old daughter, Anna. They live together on weekends in the beautiful home in Kent that Maisie inherited from her mentor, Maurice Blanche. Her step-parents from her first marriage, Lord and Lady Compton, live in the ancestral pile a short walk away. To devote more time to her marriage and her child, Maisie has cut back on her work at her agency. She delegates more and more to Billy Beale, her longtime assistant. But now a new case has come along that Maisie can’t leave in Billy’s hands alone.

The daredevil women pilots of World War II

Jo Hardy is one of the many women pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary. She’s a crack pilot with years of flight experience. In a later age, she would have been flying Spitfires in battle rather than ferrying them from the factory to RAF bases around the island. She’s mourning her fiancé, who died in a crash in Kent. And now her best friend in the ATA, Diana “Dizzy” Marshall, has died in similar circumstances. Jo suspects the RAF’s account of Dizzy’s crash is hiding something—and she wants Maisie to find out what really happened.

As Maisie digs into the facts about Diana Marshall’s death, she stumbles into a case that has drawn the attention of Scotland Yard—and her husband. The ATA pilot’s death was, indeed, suspicious. But even worse is in the works, and Maisie, Billy, and Mark must race against time to head off what might jeopardize the war effort.

About the author

Photo of Jacqueline Winspear, author of this novel about the women pilots of World War II
Jacqueline Winspear. Image: Wikipedia

Jacqueline Winspear was born in 1955 in Kent, England, the scene of much of the action in this novel. She emigrated to the United States in 1990 and now lives in Marin County, California. Winspear is the author of the 17 novels (to date) in the popular Maisie Dobbs series that spans the two world wars of the 20th century.

For more reading

For a guide to all 17 of the novels in this series, see The Maisie Dobbs novels from Jacqueline Winspear.

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