Allison & Busby | 2022 (22 March) | 375p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1942 and the Americans have joined the war. With many men away from home, American GIs are helping out in English fields, keeping things going, making friends, falling in love. Women are working alongside them, including female pilots who collect and deliver planes across the country. One of them has a shock when she realises that there is someone on the ground firing at her plane from a barn. When she goes to investigate, she finds a terrified tied-up black American GI who says he had not been kept alone. His friend, a white man, had been taken away, probably to be shot. The army immediately judge him a guilty man. It is up to private detective Maisie Dobbs to discover the truth and clear the soldier’s name before he is transported back to the US. Maisie, married to an American, is better aware than most of the differences between the two nations and of the paramount importance that nothing destroys the relationship between them. Not everyone, it seems, agrees with that.
I am a huge fan of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. A Sunlit Weapon is the seventeenth in the series. I haven’t read them all yet (I discovered them relatively recently, about 3 years ago) but I have enjoyed reading them whenever I can and I think I’ve now read about ten of them. So, while I don’t think you need to have read them all to enjoy A Sunlit Weapon, I would recommend that you read one or two, just so that you have a bit of an understanding of Maisie’s unusual background and her relationships, particularly with her assistant, with her husband and with her adopted daughter. Maisie’s been through some adventures over the last twenty years. She’s known tragedy and she’s also experienced the worst of mankind. But there is also love.
I am so fond of Maisie. She is practical, busy, helpful and loving. There is also an obstinacy to her. She will fight for what is right and she will persevere. She spends half of her time in London and the other half in the country, with her daughter Anna. But there are signs that this cannot continue indefinitely. Anna needs her. She is different from her schoolfriends and teachers. This is not a good time to be different. This is made more than apparent when Maisie takes on the case of the African-American GI.
I enjoy the spy element of these novels. Maisie has, in the past, gone undercover to complete some lethal missions. Those days are gone but she is still involved with individuals from the government, while her husband Mark is an important, somewhat shadowy figure at the American Embassy in London. His role now is to prepare the ground for the First Lady who is determined to visit England and encourage the GIs in person. There is a potential for disaster.
This isn’t fast crime fiction. In a way, it’s more of a saga, a leisurely investigation over multiple novels into the impact of the First World War, the rise of fascism and the Second World War on Maisie Dobbs and those she loves. It’s historical fiction more than crime and there are some fascinating glimpses into life in the early 1940s. The female pilots are especially admirable and charismatic. You can see why Maisie would be drawn to them. Discrimination is a clear theme of the series, whether it’s against women, foreigners or those of a different colour. This novel also provides an appealing portrait of the transformation of London by war but also by the influx of foreigners and new attitudes.
I was engrossed by A Sunlit Weapon and soon fell back into the cosy yet thoughtful world in which the author immerses the reader. I will always read these novels and, once more, look forward to Maisie’s return.