British author Jacqueline Winspear’s spy novel Journey to Munich
(2016) is her twelfth novel to star the character Maisie Dobbs, an investigator and psychologist working in post-World War I Britain. In Journey to Munich
, Dobbs travels to Nazi Germany to retrieve a captured British subject imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp.
Maisie Dobbs is born in 1897. At the age of thirteen, her mother dies, forcing her to a get a job to help her father stay afloat financially. While serving as a maid to the Lady Rowan Compton of Belgravia Mansion, Dobbs distinguishes herself to her employer by evincing a learned attitude and love for reading. Compton promptly introduces Dobbs to private investigator Maurice Blanche, who teaches her science, psychology, and the tricks of his investigation trade. Later, Dobbs enrolls at Cambridge University’s Girton College for women, but she chooses to become a nurse after the start of World War I. When the war ends, Dobbs serves as Blanche’s apprentice until his retirement in 1929, at which point Dobbs takes over the private investigation business.
When Journey to Munich
opens, the year is 1938. After eleven books worth of top-shelf investigation and covert operations, Dobbs is well known to the British Secret Service. Two of its agents, Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane, approach Dobbs one cold morning while she walks in the vicinity of London’s Fitzroy Square, an area that reminds her of the husband and child she lost. Huntley and MacFarlane tell Dobbs she is well suited to complete a potentially dangerous mission for them. Leon Donat, a successful businessman and British citizen, is being held captive in the heart of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
The Nazis say they will release Donat, currently imprisoned near Munich in the horrific Dachau concentration camp, but they will only release him to an immediate family member. Unfortunately, Donat’s wife is dead, and their only daughter is deathly ill. Dobbs, the two agents say, will pose as Donat’s daughter, Edwina—with whom she shares a striking a resemblance—to retrieve the man. Dobbs, always sensitive to pleas related to serving her country and doing her duty to Britain, agrees to complete the mission. Moreover, she justifies the work to herself by thinking about how “tending the terrible wounds of those who fought for freedom from oppression lifted her own deep melancholy.”
In addition to retrieving Donat, Dobbs is approached by another person whose loved one is behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. John Otterburn says that his daughter Elaine has disappeared, leaving her husband and child. She was last seen in Berlin, apparently. This request is complicated by the fact that Dobbs blames John, in part, for the death of her husband, James. James died after John convinced him to test-pilot an experimental new aircraft. Dobbs also can’t help but hold Elaine accountable as well—a much more experienced pilot, Elaine should have been the one to test the aircraft, in Dobbs’s mind. In any case, intelligence suggests that Elaine is headed toward Munich.
Gilbert Leslie, a diplomat from the U.K., greets Dobbs upon her arrival in Munich, escorting her to a Nazi outpost. There she learns that Donat’s imprisonment is the result of a donation of money he made to journalist Ulli Bader to fund an anti-Hitler newspaper in Germany called The Voice of Freedom
. Later, after tracking Elaine to the “hip” suburb of Schwabing, Dobbs realizes she, too, is being followed. Her pursuer is Mark Scott, an American agent from the Department of Justice. Scott tells Dobbs that because the Americans also want to see Donat rescued from the Nazis, Scott had been following Dobbs in the hope that she might lead him to Donat.
The next day, Dobbs finally makes contact with Elaine, whom, it appears, has been dating an SS agent Luther Gramm. It turns out that Elaine is actually working as an informant for Scott, which explains the real reason why Scott encountered Dobbs the previous day. She also helped funnel money from her mother into The Voice of Freedom
through Donat. Now, Gramm is dead and Elaine is framed for his murder. Moreover, Dobbs learns that the Nazis captured Donat during a raid on the newspaper headquarters.
In the end, Dobbs survives and accomplishes her goals. While the dangerous experience is traumatic, it also reignites her love of investigative work in the wake of her husband’s death. As Kirkus Reviews
notes, “Winspear elegantly balances Dobbs’s emotional turmoil and dogged patriotism with the growing tensions of a Europe on the brink of war.”