In This Grave Hour: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
At the close of JOURNEY TO MUNICH, the previous novel featuring Maisie Dobbs, Maisie found herself at a turning point. Professionally, she decided to return to her training and passion, private investigation. But on a broader scale, she (and everyone around her) was holding her breath awaiting a seemingly inevitable turn toward war.
At the opening of IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, that inevitability has come to fruition. The prime minister has declared war on Germany, and within minutes, London sees its first air raids of the war. For Maisie and others of her generation who also served in the Great War, this new development carries with it an air of both horror and familiarity, as they wonder what this new conflict will mean for their country, themselves and, in many cases, their children.
"Although IN THIS GRAVE HOUR is a well-realized historical novel, full of period details that help enliven this pivotal era in 20th-century history, many of the issues it raises continue to hold currency today."
As in her personal life, Maisie soon discovers that in her new investigation, the repercussions of the last war are still felt even as a new one is breaking out. She is approached by an acquaintance, Francesca Thomas, a secret service agent and former member of a Belgian women’s resistance organization, who is concerned about the execution-style killing of a man who fled Belgium for England during the last war. Thomas suspects, rightly, that Scotland Yard, who has classified the murder as a burglary gone wrong, will not do enough to investigate the case. So she’s imploring Maisie to get to the bottom of the murder.
As Maisie discovers that this most recent killing may form part of a larger pattern, she begins to suspect that Francesca Thomas may not have been entirely forthcoming about her knowledge of the case or about her personal stake in the investigation. But as usual, Maisie, who is also balancing personal concerns about her two employees as well as her oldest friend, remains unfailingly professional.
Complicating matters are Maisie’s rural family members, who have taken in a handful of evacuee children from London and are finding one of them, in particular, to be a bit of a handful herself. Maisie soon finds herself at odds with her father about how best to manage the girl, and (as with many of her professional cases) finds herself wrestling with whether and how to involve herself personally in the girl’s welfare.
Although IN THIS GRAVE HOUR is a well-realized historical novel, full of period details that help enliven this pivotal era in 20th-century history, many of the issues it raises continue to hold currency today. Conversations and debates about whether and how to integrate refugees into society remain relevant, as do considerations of immigrants’ loyalties and responsibilities to the host country that has taken them in. And, of course, Maisie, with her quiet competence and unfailing compassion, continues to be one of the most interesting and resilient characters in mystery fiction.
At the novel’s end, Maisie commits herself to yet another turn, this time back to the service that proved both her strength and her undoing during the first war. Everything comes full circle, it seems, but rest assured that Maisie herself will only continue to grow.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 17, 2017