Jacqueline Winspear’s The Consequences of Fear is the lattest in her long-running Maisie Dobbs series. As the 16th book, the story has moved through a fair bit of history, and this volume takes place clearly in the depths of World War Two.
The setting is muted compared to some war narratives, but does not do away with the at time bleak outlook brought on by the assortment of attacks that hit London and other parts of the UK at the time. Indeed, it is the manpower shortage caused by the massive use of soldiers that helps to instigate the witness to the murder that drives the narrative forward.
Indeed, at the start of the volume the reader is introduced to Freddy, a boy who is working as a runner to get messages across distances by physically carrying them for various men on the home front. It is late after one of these assignments, dropping off a message to a man in a somewhat delapidated house, that he sees what appears to be that same man committing a murder in front of him.
Freddy, through a mutual acquaintance, draws Maisie Dobbs in on the case, and the reader is gifted with detailed descriptions of her skills and qualifications. At of the start of the book she is, among other tasks, using her knowledge of psychology to help vet potential resistance agents. Her superior in this, Macdonald, repeatedly performs the extremely unprofessional action of having her evaluate the war readiness of loved ones, in spite of the fact in the book goes out of it’s way to note that she could not possibly make.
Maisie receives the most resistance to her investigations from Macdonald, even suspects providing less resistance.. Further, the primary mystery of the novel is repeatedly distracted from by the various events involving the war effort. This is an overall clever narrativr choice, as it allows personal attention to ramp up without the murder relating to the detective in a very personal way.
Particularly with a woman protagonist for a parent as a protagonist, it is extremely common to put the loved ones of an investigator in danger to create a personal connection. While there are of course loved ones in danger in this World War II setting, they are not endangered by the particular investigation Maisie Dobbs undergoes. This is a welcome change of pace, and again an excellent use of historical setting.
Further, in the space it’s given Winspear does an excellent job making clear the ways in which various parts of the setting and plot lead inextricably to the solution that is ultimately found.
Series readers should take note that this volume features both a major turning point in the War and a major change in Maisie Dobbs’ life. While the volume is most definitely somewhat reader friendly, for a fan of the series it is clearly must-have.
Overall The Consequences of Fear gives an excellent example of Winspear as a historical mystery author, and a good argument for picking up the Maisie Dobbs series. There might be better volumes to start with, however this one will work fine for the reader who happens to see it first.