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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Length: Full (352 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 5 Books
Reviewed by Camellia

In the latest mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, Maisie Dobbs must unravel a case of wartime love and death—an investigation that leads her to a long-hidden affair between a young cartographer and a mysterious nurse.

August 1914. Michael Clifton is mapping the land he has just purchased in California's beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, certain that oil lies beneath its surface. But as the young cartographer prepares to return home to Boston, war is declared in Europe. Michael—the youngest son of an expatriate Englishman—puts duty first and sails for his father's native country to serve in the British army. Three years later, he is listed among those missing in action.

April 1932. London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is retained by Michael's parents, who have recently learned that their son's remains have been unearthed in France. They want Maisie to find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were among Michael's belongings—a quest that takes Maisie back to her own bittersweet wartime love. Her inquiries, and the stunning discovery that Michael Clifton was murdered in his trench, unleash a web of intrigue and violence that threatens to engulf the soldier's family and even Maisie herself. Over the course of her investigation, Maisie must cope with the approaching loss of her mentor, Maurice Blanche, and her growing awareness that she is once again falling in love.

Love and death evoke strong emotions and influence actions in this Maisie Dobbs mystery that hums with an undercurrent of secrets, many of them related to events that happened during the stressful time of WWI.

Sixteen years after the fact, Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, works to answer questions and bring closure for the American Cliftons whose son Michael died on a battlefield in France during the war.

Maisie and her assist Billy Beale make a map that indicates where to start and where they want to end up then set out to find the bits and pieces that will help them get there. Like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces knocked off the table and obscured under the furniture, the case of Michael Clifton tests the skills of Maisie and Billy. Finding the answers is like tiptoeing through a minefield at times.

The main plot and the sub-plots reveal many unhealed spots in hearts that result from war experiences or personal tragedy of years past. Social status does not exempt one from the hurt. However, a subtle humor and hint of good things to come whisper and play in and among many scenes.

The secondary characters come to life as Maisie goes about her investigation. Priscilla, Maisie’s friend, confidant, and critic, is a delight. She opens doors for Maisie that led to major clues while never losing a step in her matchmaking efforts. Her social standing and her philanthropic works give her access to lots of people that are useful to Maisie.

Lord and Lady Compton and their son James (a man in crisis) play big parts in Maisie’s personal and professional life. She has a long-time history with them and with Maurice, her mentor and “second father” whom she loves dearly.

Maisie’s uneasy relationship with Detective Inspector Caldwell of Scotland Yard creates a palpable tension as she skates close to the line of withholding evidence before involving Caldwell so the wrongdoers can be arrested.

Jacquelyn Winspear does a magnificent job of weaving Maisie’s personal life into this mystery. The sub-plots of the Clifton family dynamics; the wartime liaisons and their consequences; the long-kept secrets of some military personnel; and the changing social structure in England make The Mapping of Love and Death a gripping tale that engages the imagination and touches the heart.