Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 340 pages, 2005

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: Continuing on the big mystery kick I seem to be on lately.

Synopsis: It’s 1930, and Maisie Dobbs is working as a private investigator when a strange case falls into her lap. Sir Cecil Lawton vowed to his dying wife that he would attempt to find their son, a man that all reason indicates died over a decade earlier in the Great War; however, some shady psychics were willing to give Mrs. Lawton hope that he was still alive. Normally, Maisie wouldn’t agree to such a dubious case, but she requires Sir Lawton’s help as a lawyer in defending a poor thirteen-year-old girl accused of murder. Maisie must face her own demons with a visit to France, the place she served as a nurse during the war, but for cases that are supposed to involve nothing more than ghosts, there seems to be a solid enough presence out there that’s trying to kill her…

Why you should read this book: Generally, a mystery novel might be considered a success just based on, well, the mystery. Pardonable Lies progresses – we see Maisie isn’t just a smooth, highly-efficient woman, but that she’s also dealing with the vulnerabilities and doubts that the Great War has scarred her with and that she has tried so hard to hide. As each layer of her self-confidence falls away with each memory her investigation uncovers, the reader can’t help but grow more and more attached to Maisie, making each attempt on her life all the more dramatic and poignant. If you’re looking for a great mystery, powerful characters, and a little bit of history, you’ve opened the right book.

Why you should avoid this book: At the beginning of Pardonable Lies, it seems like Maisie may be a bit over-the-top – she walks into a room and immediately soothes over all bad feelings with an almost holy vibe, which makes her seem a touch cocky, especially for a woman living in the year 1930. This outer shell of Maisie’s does come away quickly enough to draw you on in the story, though, if you push past the initial characterization.

Opening paragraph:

The young policewoman stood in the corner of the room. Plain whitewashed walls, a heavy door, a wooden table with two chairs, and one small window with frosted glass rendered the room soulless. It was a cold afternoon and she’d been in the corner since coming on duty two hours ago, her only company the rumpled and bent girl sitting in the chair that faced the wall. Others had come into the room to sit in the second chair: first, Detective Inspector Richard Stratton, with Detective Sergeant Caldwell standing behind him; then Stratton standing while a doctor from the Maudsley Hospital sat before the girl, trying to get her to speak. The girl – no one knew her age or where she had come from because she hadn’t spoken a word since she was brought in this morning, her bloodstained dress, hands and face showing a month’s worth of dirt – was now waiting for another person who had been summoned to question her: a Miss Maisie Dobbs. The policewoman had heard of Maisie Dobbs, but with what she had seen today, she wasn’t sure that anyone could get this young scrubber to talk.

Fabulous quotes:

‘I had hoped you might be able to help me, Miss Hartnell, to throw light on the issue of Ralph Lawton’s death,’ said Maisie. Leaning back again, Hartnell shook her head. ‘I’m afraid there’s little I can say, Miss Dobbs. Lady Agnes believed her son to be alive, and I saw no reason to doubt her. I should add that my clients expect and receive a promise of complete confidentiality. I know she’s dead now, but’ – again she held Maisie’s eyes with her own – ‘that doesn’t have a bearing on my work. Death is not the end of the line as far as my responsibility to my clients goes.’

It was as she walked along that Maisie felt a prickly sensation at her neck, akin to the feeling that one gets when one is being observed, perhaps across a room, between the shelves of books in a library, or when one is shopping. It was a trigger that made Maisie instinctively turn around to identify the observer, stopping quickly before looking down the street upon which she had just walked. The street was empty, so she continued on her way, struggling to maintain the determination embraced only ten minutes ago as she left Ebury Place.

Also recommended: Cover Her Face by P.D. James; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson; The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory; Mistress Bradstreet by Charlotte Gordon.

Also by this author: Maisie Dobbs; Birds of a Feather; Messenger of Truth.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Visit Winspear’s website to read her account of a visit to the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres, complete with photos.

Would I read more by this author? I liked the history aspect, so I’ll be adding Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather to my TBR.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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