On the cart of recently returned books by the front desk was Jacqueline Winspear's A Lesson in Secrets. I don't know how Dan Conrad's request for this book from the Minneapolis Public Library is working its way up the waiting list, but Northfield's copy was just sitting on the cart waiting for me. I picked it up, checked it out, and never got 20 feet from the entrance. It was a satisfying and efficient trip to the library.
Sir Oswald Moseley, infamous for leading the British Union Of Fascists before
the second world war, figures indirectly in this story.
Reading A Lesson in Secrets was not as satisfying or as efficient. The book is once again full of fascinating details about fashion and technology of everyday life in London of 1932. There is a theme concerning the Crown's secret intelligence bureau and its focus on Bosheviks in Cambridge's colleges, while ignoring the growing influence of fascists and Nazis on campus. There's also a story about organized crime and a protection racket in London. In fact, there are many stories in this book. Too many by my lights.
Because there are so many stories here, none of them (not even the primary one) really get told well. There's the young widow that Maisie takes under her wing. There's Maisie's assistant Billy and his family. There's a story about Maisie's father, a widower for 20 years, and his new "girlfriend." There's Maisie's romance. And then there's Maisie's undercover job for Crown. Oh, and you might add that there's a story of Maisie's cover as a philosophy lecturer in a Cambridge college. (She's supposed to report on anything untoward she finds on campus.) There's also some of Maisie's reminiscences about her own student days in Cambridge. Well, you see the problem: how to tell all those stories in 321 pages. Winspear tries to do that and ends with, "Yes, time would give up her secrets. She just had to wait." Not great.
Those last lines affirm what I felt throughout the book. These are transitional stories. Most of them lead to future stories. The young widow, like Maisie, makes her way in the world. Billy and his family have a new baby and a brand new house with "an indoor lav." Maisie's father finds a boon companion for retirement. Maisie and her titled lover, in a romance novel, sort out how to merge their strong individual lives and compromise with the expectations of post-Victorian English high society. Maisie finds such satisfaction in teaching philosophy that she turns her detective agency over to Billy and the young widow while she commutes between her lover's London mansion, his family's estate in Kent, and her classrooms in Cambridge. And she probably takes on a few more undercover jobs for the crown while accompanying her lover (husband?) on his business trips around the world.
There are also some things missing. I just can't believe that Maisie's little MG roadster starts everytime she turns the key and it never breaks down or gets a flat tire. (MGs were not modern Toyotas.)
How is it that Maisie and her friends never come in contact with the destitute and unemployed of 1932 England? I'm pretty certain that Winspear did the research, but were developers really building new, semi-detatched homes on the edge of London in '32? And then there's her lover's international business (and another character's global trading company). How was it that these companies were prosperous as the world's economies were falling apart?
So, I wasn't completely satisfied with the book. I wasn't efficient either. I kept falling asleep between chapters yesterday. There's something about being at the cabin called Sidetrack, looking at the lake, and doing bits and pieces of maintenance that are relaxing. And the relaxation led to several naps that interruupted my reading.
Check out A Lesson in Secrets for yourself. Then (or if you've already read it) write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.