Jacqueline Winspear, Journey to Munich (Harper, 2016)
Journey to Munich is the twelfth entry in the bestselling Maisie Dobbs series, which follows a former London parlourmaid through her career as a private investigator and beyond. If you’ve been reading the series all along, you will probably know already that you want to read this one. If you haven’t gotten into it yet, you might wonder whether you can jump in so late in the game.
To help answer this question, I purposely avoided reading earlier books in the series before starting Journey to Munich. (I had read the first book, Maisie Dobbs, but that was such a long time ago that I barely remember it.) Would it work as a standalone, or would it be too dependent on former episodes? A bit of both, I would say. The heart of the story, in which Maisie travels to Munich on the eve of the second World War to try to rescue a captured inventor, works on its own as a chilling glimpse into Hitler’s regime. Around the edges, though, there is a good deal of exposition about Maisie’s past experiences and acquaintances, which, while giving necessary information for new readers, tended to stall the action. For longtime followers of the story, this might awaken pleasurable memories of well-known characters and incidents, but without that context I found such passages somewhat dry and repetitive.
That was one obstacle to my enjoyment of the story; the other was the curiously convoluted plot. When she’s asked to help British intelligence for not-terribly-clear reasons, Maisie also has to come to terms with a person who betrayed her in the past, an act that led to an unbearable personal tragedy. The combination of straight thriller and psychological drama did not quite work for me, though it’s hard to put my finger on why. The tension and release that are hallmarks of the cloak-and-dagger type of story were strangely employed, and left me dissatisfied. There were several times when I expected something to happen and … it didn’t. Of course, this might be a conscious attempt to subvert expectations, but it came across more as sloppy storytelling.
What I did like about the story was the character of Maisie, an independent woman trying to bravely make her way forward in the world; the the vivid evocation of a city on the edge of war; and the suggestion at the end that the adventures will continue and old relationships be revived. Before that happens, I am going to be looking back at some of the earlier volumes, and I suggest you do too, before taking this journey. Clearly, Maisie Dobbs has much to offer in the way of suspense and drama, with characters who grow and develop over time amid a fascinating historical milieu. Even though this installment in her saga had some problems for me, I enjoyed it enough to want to seek out more.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review Journey to Munich. For more reviews of this and all the Maisie Dobbs books, visit the Tour page.