The Consequences of Fear
The Consequences of Fear is the sixteenth novel in the Maisie Dobbs series. This latest volume shows our titular heroine contemplating the vagaries of war-time justice as she tries to find a murderer in an England bombarded with death due to incessant Nazi aggression. While the mystery portion might work fine as a standalone, the book is definitely best read in sequence with the rest of the series since there is a lot of background information pertaining to Maisie’s personal life the reader would benefit from knowing before jumping in.
As a nighttime delivery runner in the London of October 1941, young Freddie Hackett is used to experiencing things a boy his age should never be exposed to. The whistle of falling bombs, explosions in the dark, dead bodies, dismembered corpses, fires, debris hurtling through the air – his job racing important government communiques from one spot to another means he’s seen them all. But he typically doesn’t witness actual murders – nor does he regularly find himself fleeing the crime scene only to deliver his important missive into the hands of the killer he thought he’d escaped. Fortunately, the wreckage he had hidden behind did its job well enough that the man doesn’t recognize him.
Being an upstanding citizen, Freddie reports the incident to the police but when they arrive at the scene there is no body and no evidence amidst the abundant rubble that anything untoward (beyond a German bomb) has happened in the area. But Freddie knows what he saw, and having delivered messages to Maisie before, he’s aware she runs a private detective agency. He takes the case to her.
Maisie and her assistant Billy are familiar with Freddie and prone to believe him. When they check out the scene of the crime, they uncover evidence the police overlooked, and Maisie takes the information to her contact at Scotland Yard. She quickly discovers, however, that no one wants her looking into what happened and pursuing this inquiry could easily lead her into trouble with the Special Operations Executive and her sometimes boss, Robbie Mcfarlane.
Like any long running series, the Maisie Dobbs lexicon contains great books, good books, not-so-good books and everything in between. The Consequences of Fear falls somewhere between good and great for me. When the novel concentrates on the mystery, it is excellent. Maisie and her sidekick Billy do a stellar job of combining their talents to slowly but surely catch their killer. While Billy pounds the pavement following leads, Maisie quietly interrogates witnesses and uses her prodigious deductive reasoning skills to piece together clues until she has a clear picture of what occurred. In this case, that also involves her tapping old friends for help – namely a child psychologist who evaluates Freddie’s memories for fresh information and a former spy who knows just what SOE is trying to keep her from interfering with. As always, Maisie gets over-involved with her client. She had been unaware before of the many dangers Freddie’s family faced from his drunken, abusive father and she works hard to move them out of his reach and place all of them in a better situation.
The author also, as always, perfectly captures her time period. One of the strongest elements of this series is how Ms. Winspear shows us both the freedom and restrictions put on women of that era; she writes strong female characters in Maisie and in several young women Maisie works with through the war effort. The narrative also captures the effect the relentless danger and stress from the bombing has on those forced to remain in London and how draining it was for the police to try to maintain public safety in those circumstances. Overall, the historical detail is just fantastic.
I’ve been enjoying the forays into Maisie’s private life less and less since the events of A Dangerous Place and found this narrative to be no exception to that. In the last novel, Maisie began an affair with American Mark Scott, but this story finds them both frustrated with where they are in their relationship. Maisie’s war work as well as her private investigative work keep her far too busy to give a lot of time to their connection, and Mark’s having to travel back and forth between the two countries in his efforts to gain American support for the British war effort keeps him essentially unavailable for long periods as well. Added to their time constraints is the little issue of Maisie’s adopted daughter Anna, who is currently living with Maisie’s elderly father and stepmother in the countryside and whom Maisie tries to see every weekend. Including Anna in their lives means that Mark and Maisie have few moments for a tête-à-tête or simple alone time. The situation is such that Maisie knows changes need to be made – and Mark does as well. The brief amount of page time their liaison receives is mostly spent wrestling with the issue of how they want to fix things – if they even want to. I found myself not really caring what they did and indifferent to the outcome.
I may be alone in feeling that way regarding Maisie’s love life, but I know I won’t be alone in thoroughly enjoying this book. I am certain fans of the series will be delighted with The Consequences of Fear because it’s a terrific story on its own and a lovely addition to the series overall.