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Last week, I enjoyed the film Ophelia. Tina reviewed a mystery set in Bristol, I Know You Know by Gilly MacMillan. She also shared her enjoyment of The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM, plus the film Yesterday.
Book: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear
Publication date: 2019
Source: e-book borrowed from library
Summary: The American Agent is the 15th, and most recent, book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie served as a nurse in World War I. In this book, she’s a volunteer ambulance driver who attempts to keep her investigation business alive during the London Blitz of World War II. I always forget how close those two wars were together — a young nurse in World War I would be much younger than me (I just turned 58) when World War II began.
The American agent, in the title, is Mark Scott who we met in the previous novel — he helped Maisie get safely home after an unfortunately-timed trip to Berlin to work on a case. He’s involved because the current case focuses on the death of a young American journalist.
Catherine Saxon was just about to realize her dream of working with Edward R. Murrow, becoming one of “Murrow’s boys” — American correspondents in London who gathered information for his radio broadcasts. As part of her research, she accompanied Maisie on the ambulance.
When Catherine is found dead in her flat, Maisie wonders if the journalist angered someone with her reporting or was there another reason that someone slashed her throat?
Thoughts: I picked up this book because I’ve had some trouble with reading slumps during the pandemic and I want books by authors I can rely on for an escape. The Maisie Dobbs books never fail to keep me entranced from beginning to end in a not-entirely-nostalgic setting of England in the past.
With The American Agent, I kept being startled by the things in common between surviving a pandemic and surviving the blitzes.
A lot of my Facebook friends are doing jigsaw puzzles, right now. Maisie’s family works jigsaw puzzles in their air raid shelter. If you happen to be looking for a source, may I suggest The Puzzle Warehouse? It’s a local business that I drive past on the way to the library. Usually, locals can stop by in person, but now we order on-line just like everyone else.
Theaters are closed. I had season tickets to The Fox — a venue for touring musicals in St. Louis. Two shows were canceled. I was supposed to see Hamilton last week — they’re still hoping to find a way to bring Hamilton at a later date, so I’m holding on to my ticket.
I also miss the small theater scene which is vibrant in St. Louis. King John, Trash Macbeth, One Flea Spare, and Into the Breeches were from very small theater companies. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley played at a larger venue, The Rep.
Did you know that many of London’s famous theaters closed during The Blitz? Here’s how that impacted one of Catherine’s house mates, actress Polly Harcourt:
“Catherine always said I should try to write a play.” She sighed. “And a couple of days ago I thought I might as well, seeing as the theater has closed until this spate of bombing is over. A few have stayed open, but probably not for long–and naturally not the play I was in.”
I’m not entirely sure the British stiff upper lip is something that many of us aspire to in these days of higher emotional intelligence. But, I have to say that I recognize the attitude in these two quotes, in myself and others:
The people of London were most certainly on a carousel of emotional experiences, and due not only to the gamut of BBC broadcasts, but the onslaught of bombs every single night, along with families divided by war, children sent to the homes of strangers, and the task everyone had taken on — of acting as if nothing in the world bothered them when there was everything to bother them.
Now it was a London where tension was threaded into the fabric of life, just as London’s oldest rivers ran beneath her streets, silently winding their ancient way under the thoroughfares of a city where people prided themselves on their ability to carry on as normal.
How are you doing during this crisis? Do you feel any connections with Londoners in 1940?
Appeal: Of course, Maisie Dobbs fans will want to read this. There are long story arcs across the novels in this series, but if you happen to be in the mood for a novel set during The Blitz, I think The American Agent will work as a stand-alone. You won’t get every nuance about the characters, especially Maisie’s family, but it won’t detract from the mystery or the setting.
Do you have other novels set during The Blitz to recommend? I seem to be in the mood.