If you are a fan of Jacqueline Winspear’s mysteries set in London between the World Wars, when you read her last book (A Lesson in Secrets), you might have thought Maisie Dobb’s life was getting all neatly bundled up—love interest, check, financial well-being, check, good mental state, check, clear career goals, check. Perhaps overly settled. I almost thought things were getting a bit too comfy for Maisie, Winspear’s sleuth. Where’s the excitement in that? I shouldn’t have worried. Jacqueline Winspear has written Elegy for Eddie (on sale March 27, 2012). Without any soap opera antics, just Winspear’s impeccable, nuanced character development, Maisie is at sea again in a variety of ways—all those comfortable expectations you were left with at the end of Lesson are unraveling—and she’s solving a mystery of a completely new sort.
The Eddie of the title was an unusual man. Most people thought he was “slow,” but those who knew him well saw a lot more to him. He had remarkable talents, both obvious and hidden. He was best known for his mystical ability to quiet horses. That he was born in a stable doesn’t quite explain this skill, although that’s what the gossips say. When he dies in an “accident,” the cockney costermongers of Maisie’s childhood feel justice hasn’t been done and they come to see her. Winspear’s own love for horses comes out beautifully in this novel. And her elegy for a man who today might be labeled “special needs” is sensitive and deeply moving. Winspear never slips into clichéd ideas. That her idea for Eddie arose from the story of a real man, or the little fragment she heard about him, makes this even more touching.
I was struck in the first part of the book by the absence of the shadow of World War II—or so I thought. A Lesson in Secrets focused largely on this looming threat. But here again in Elegy, Winspear shows the insidious influence of both the World Wars, the one behind these characters and the one they will soon face. She draws with a sure hand the web of disaster closing in on England and America, and the corrupting effect of war’s threat, even on men of good intentions. Here are “villains” whose crimes you may have to overlook and “heroes” whose secrets you may grow to despise. Winspear has tied together a page-turning mystery with a level of moral complexity rarely seen in the genre.