Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

We have Internet! So happy. Fingers and toes crossed that it will last.

First things first: Journey to Munich is #12 in the Maisie Dobbs series and I have not read any other Maisie Dobbs books. Sometimes it works to dive into a series in the middle or toward the end of a mystery series (I've done it many times) and sometimes it doesn't. Journey to Munich was a mixed experience in that way. If you're familiar with the series, you know about the heroine's past and the characters who have been prominent but died. I did not, of course. Maisie spends a lot of time reflecting on her past, which muddled things for me, but not enough to stop me from reading on. More on that in a minute.

In Journey to Munich, Maisie is asked to pose as the daughter of an industrialist who has been imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. It's 1938, Hitler is on the brink of invading two nearby countries, and Leon Donat's real daughter is not well. Donat has important knowledge that the British government wants to get their hands on, so they've begun negotiating his release (for a price);  Maisie must present the necessary documents and bring Leon Donat home.

Meanwhile, a very important man finds out about Maisie's plans to go undercover and requests her help locating his daughter, the woman Maisie blames for a tragedy in her own life (it's a spoiler if you missed #11). Maisie refreshes her German, memorizes information about Leon and his family, practices shooting a gun, and then dons a wig and takes off for Munich. I confess, I was a bit surprised how long it took for Maisie to even arrive in Munich.

In Germany, Maisie is faced with a number of challenges. The woman she's searching for is not quite what she seems, there's an American tailing her wherever she goes, Donat's story is more complex than she realized, and one particular Nazi seems to suspect her motives.

There's good and bad to Journey to Munich from the perspective of this new Maisie reader. She does put on her detective hat, so to speak, now and then. But, Journey to Munich is more a spy novel than a mystery novel. In that regard, it is probably more my type of book than a typical Maisie book. In fact, I tried the series, early on, and couldn't get into it. But, at the time I was reading almost no mysteries and I doubt it was the author's fault. I think it was more a function of my past mystery burnout holding me back. I requested an ARC of Journey to Munich because I've been gradually reading more  from the Mystery/Thriller category, in recent months, and I thought it would be a good time to give the series a second go.

My biggest problem with the book involved what I considered some minor touches of implausibility. Maisie is easily followed everywhere by an American but while the Nazis seem suspicious of her and she places herself in danger numerous times, they're never quite as threatening as anticipated. However, I did think the author did an excellent job of providing a sense of place and ramping up tension. The only other problem I had with the book was the one mentioned above. The Maisie Dobbs series is definitely best read in order. Regular Maisie readers will understand her references to The Dower House and Maurice and why she doesn't want to deal with certain people or wants them back in her life. Again, I did not.

I had no problem with the main storyline at all but did find frequent references to the past frustrating. And, yet, I liked the book enough to think, "Hmm, maybe I should start this series from the beginning." If I do, I believe I'll stop at #10. I peeked at a few reviews by Maisie lovers to get their impression and it sounds like that's where they would have liked the series to end. And, yet, I should add that Journey to Munich ends on a very hopeful note, implying that better things are to come, including the return of characters and format from the past.

Recommended - While the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series doesn't stand all that well alone, it's still perfectly readable if you have not dipped into the series in the past. I asked a friend who has read all the Maisie books what he thought and he said he didn't even notice any implausibility. He just enjoyed the book. So, my discomfort about Nazi suspicion might be the eyes of a frequent WWII novel reader at work (although the story takes place on the cusp of war, before Great Britain has declared war on Germany) and I may be a touch more picky, not being familiar with the series. I enjoyed Journey to Munich, in spite of the problems I encountered by diving into a series whose characters and past are unfamiliar, and I definitely recommend it.

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  1. I think when series are this long they should be ok as standalones. I don't want to read 9 other books just to get to the one I wanted to read in the first place. You know? But I'd imagine that's hard for the author to do.

    1. I agree. Some authors do standalones just fine. Honestly, I think she could have done so, as well. All she had to do was explain things and places (the Dower House, Maurice) with a line or two and cut out much of the text that amounted to nothing but reflection on past events. It was well-written enough to follow the story if she'd cut out the unnecessary bits about Maisie's past.

      Having said that, I agree that one should be able to dive into #9 or #12 without reading the previous books. As I recall, Maisie's adventures began during WWI. Now, it's the brink of WWII. I'm a WWII buff so the idea of Maisie working as a spy in pre-WWII Germany was appealing to me. I still am interested in going back to the beginning, but since she's presently in my favorite time period, it's more of a draw than WWI and it would probably be a benefit to the author to keep the focus narrower, stick with the story, and hope that people who like that particular time period will become interested if they weren't, before.

  2. Hard to believe this is book 12! I honestly have no idea where I am in this series at the moment...

    1. That's one of the troubles with a long series -- losing track of how far you've read.


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