cover image To Die But Once: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

To Die But Once: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

Jacqueline Winspear. Harper, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-243663-4

The possible disappearance of a teenage boy drives bestseller Winspear’s so-so novel set in 1940 Britain, her 14th featuring London investigator and psychologist Maisie Dobbs (after 2017’s In This Grave Hour). Before the war, 15-year-old Joe Coombes worked as an apprentice for a painting and decorating company that the British government retained to paint RAF facilities with a new kind of fire-retardant. When Joe’s family doesn’t hear from him for several days, his father, publican Phil Coombes, asks Maisie to trace the boy. His son seemed different during their last visits, Phil tells her. Maisie soon learns that Joe took a fatal fall onto a railway track, but the reader already knows, via the prologue, that he was bludgeoned to death. The whodunit story line is often secondary to the larger historical picture—in particular, the British response to the retreat from Dunkirk and the threat of German invasion—and to developments in Maisie’s private life. A gratuitous closing contrivance doesn’t help. Still, Winspear fans will find much to like. Agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. (Mar.)