Book Review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline WinspearThis is the eight book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and the first one I read. In case you wonder: it’s fine, you don’t need the earlier seven to appreciate this book.

Don’t you just love an old-fashioned style detective story? Well, this is one. It’s subtitled A Maisie Dobbs Novel.

A Lesson in Secrets: What it is about

Maisie Dobbs is a private investigator with her own small firm. She has one employee, Billy. Very soon in the story she offers a job to Sandra, a young woman that she looked after a few years ago. A good thing too, because Maisie herself is hired on a job that keeps her away from her firm most of the week.

She’s been asked by the secret service to check whether foreigners with anti-British convictions are entering Britain, and St. Francis college in Cambridge is the place to look for them. She therefore takes up a job as a lecturer in philosophy there.

Not long after she starts, one of the professors is killed and Maisie is involved in finding the killer, although her friends from Scotland Yard sternly tell her to stay off the case.

Meanwhile, she tries to buy a newly built house for Billy and his family, who live in a run-down area, and Sandra disappears. Enough work for Maisie. So much, that she doesn’t have much time to think about her boyfriend, who is in Canada for a few months. Is their relationship failing?

A Lesson in Secrets: What I thought

It was an enjoyable read. How Maisie went about her new lecturing job, how she interviewed people to find out about the killing and other cases she was working on, the substory of Billy and that of Sandra, all were good fun.

It was such fun that I didn’t really care who committed the murder or why. I was happy to keep on reading about Maisie regardless.

Of course, that also had a negative side: the murder story itself was a bit weak, and also the events directly preceding the murder weren’t completely convincing to me.

Other parts of the story also needed an amount of suspension of disbelief but since I liked the writing (and Maisie) so much, I was happy to do so. But for instance, it seemed a forgone conclusion that Maisie would get the university job, even though she was one of a number of candidates. Then, one week in the job, she is the first person called in to look at the body (“because she’d been a nurse”) whereas the college secretary would more likely have called a more senior person (and maybe Maisie as well).

I loved the setting, the 1930s. There was a clear sense of time and place. There were cars, but also horses and carts still. Maisie had to find a public phone if she wanted to call someone while she was out, and there were lots of other references to her time. Also, there was the Nazi party playing a role as well as the First World War, which was far from forgotten.

I also liked it that there was a book, written by one of the characters in the book, that caused many soldiers in the First World War to desert (on both sides). I thought that was a lovely idea.

I was reminded of old-fashioned murder mysteries, possibly Miss Marple or Miss Polifax. Maisie is more believable because she is a PI anyway, it is not by coincidence that she gets caught up in this case.

Enjoyable for anyone that likes a good old-fashioned murder mystery, or a well-written cozy mystery.

I got this book: free from Harper Publishers for review (ARC)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 336

First published: 2011 (April)

Genre: Mystery

Extras: Other reviews – and

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

14 Responses to Book Review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

  1. Cindy says:

    The cover certainly gets my vote 🙂

  2. Cathy says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this book. This is one of my favorite mystery series.

  3. Joanna says:

    Great review Judith. I’ve been fascinated by the books for a while but didn’t put any effort into looking for them. Will do so now though.

  4. I haven’t read any Maisie Dobbs books yet but Im pretty sure I’d like them as I do like my cosy crime books. Thanks for the review 🙂

  5. Melissa says:

    I would highly recommend going back and reading the series from the beginning. Maisie is a complex character that has grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the series. Each book also details a hidden aspect of the War. It’s difficult to choose a favorite book of the series but I would probably go with the third book, Pardonable Lies.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Melissa. I obviously must have missed lots of references to previous books and I had no way to compare Maisie to the Maisie in earlier books. But even so, it was a good read. Will start at the beginning!

  6. Nadine Nys says:

    I have to read this series; thanks.

  7. Chinoiseries says:

    I really should read the Maisie Dobbs series, but you know, huge tbr pile and all that 😉
    Too bad that some of the story was too predictable, but hey, it’s an old-fashioned detective right? I feel the same about some of Agatha Christie’s books.
    Agreeing with Cindy: the cover art is stunning!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Chinoiseries, it didn’t matter too much, the predictability. As you say, that’s typical of a classic mystery. It was fun to read about the 1930s.

  8. Leslie says:

    I just finished reading this book. My first one of the series and no problem following the story either. Light, easy read, a little predictable but very enjoyable.

  9. Pingback: Paperbackdolls » Mystery Week: ARC Review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

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