Jacqueline Winspear, To Die But Once (2018)

My first encounter with Maisie Dobbs was in 2018, when I plunged headlong into the saga at volume 13, just like some people jump all at once in a deep swimming pool, without putting a toe first. I knew the water wasn’t going to be cold, because the series came warmly recommended by lots of readers. Maisie Dobbs saga starts with World War 1, but volume 13 is set in 1939, and the whole arch is to follow the long term ripples of trauma on several generations. I thought it was a good idea to revisit Maisie, and so I downloaded book 14.

Four years had passed in my life (and a pandemic) and I can’t say I thought a lot about Maisie in the meantime. In fictional terms, only a few months had passed and it was 1940 and the catastrophe of Dunkirk. But I was expected to know everything about a whole cast of characters… and it was all too much.

Maisie’s world is a crowded one: Maisie’s close or distant relatives, numerous friends and their own spouses, kids and own relatives, staff of her private detective agency and associated spouses and kids, staff of the wealthy relatives and friends, neighbors (you guessed it, with spouse ans kids)… when it came to pets (luckily no spouse and kids mentioned), I was lost with all those names and story lines. All those characters have their own lives, as it should be, and their own mysteries, as the genre dictates… and by the time the novel started to come to an end, all of those story lines needed to find their own resolution.

What I enjoyed is clearly the historical setting and the fact that with such a large chorus you’ve got an almost representative slice of the British population. The book was interesting and entertaining, no mistake! But it required an effort of concentration and memory that I was not quite ready for. I would really recommend the publisher to put a character list for the exhausted readers. And for pity’s sake don’t attempt this book as a standalone.

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