Friday, March 31, 2023

Life as a Battlefield

Jacqueline Winspear is known to millions as the author of the Maisie Dobbs novels, which feature an intelligent, compassionate, upwardly mobile detective whose experience as a battlefield nurse during World War I informs her understanding of both the victims and the perpetrators of the cases she investigates. In The White Lady, Winspear examines the long-term effects of war on those forced to become killers if they want to survive.

As she notes during our recent New Books Network interview, both Maisie Dobbs and Winspear’s latest heroine, Elinor White, were not so much created as encountered—Maisie at a traffic light and Elinor as a memory of a woman the author met in childhood. You’ll need to listen to the interview to hear those stories, but read on to learn a bit more about Elinor, recruited into espionage at the age of eleven and still fighting for justice and for peace more than thirty years later.

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

It’s just after World War II, and Elinor White (born Elinor de Witt, which also means “white”), a single woman in her mid-forties, lives as a recluse in a village near Tunbridge Wells. One day in 1947, while on a walk, she encounters a recent arrival named Rose Mackie and is drawn to Rose’s three-year-old daughter, Susie. When thugs from London threaten Rose and Susie, Elinor brushes off the skills she polished during the two world wars and, with the help of a former colleague who has risen through the ranks at Scotland Yard, sets out to discover exactly what the thugs have planned for Rose’s husband, Jim. While trying to put a stop to it, she uncovers a web of intrigue and corruption that reaches to the very top of society.

This story occurs alongside an exploration of Elinor’s past, beginning with her girlhood in Belgium under German occupation during World War I and extending to her service as an intelligence agent against the Nazis twenty or so years later. Eventually the two threads of Elinor’s history and present intersect, revealing the achievements and the regrets that drive her.

Here, as in her Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline Winspear demonstrates a deep and multifaceted understanding of the effects of war on those forced to fight. Her books are thought-provoking, emotionally satisfying, and well worth your time.

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