The Comfort of Ghosts (Maisie Dobbs Series #18)

The Comfort of Ghosts (Maisie Dobbs Series #18)

by Jacqueline Winspear
The Comfort of Ghosts (Maisie Dobbs Series #18)

The Comfort of Ghosts (Maisie Dobbs Series #18)

by Jacqueline Winspear

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Notes From Your Bookseller

Great for fans of classic, Golden Age and historical mysteries, this is the final adventure of amateur sleuth Maisie Dobbs, a woman both of her time and ahead of it.

A milestone in historical mystery fiction as Maisie Dobbs takes her final bow!

The Comfort of Ghosts completes Jacqueline Winspear’s ground-breaking and internationally bestselling series.

“An outstanding historical series.”—The New York Times

“Winspear is a brilliant writer, mixing the history and the mystery with the psychology of criminals and victims.”—The Historical Novel Society

Psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs unravels a profound mystery from her past in a war-torn nation grappling with its future.

London, 1945: Four adolescent orphans with a dark wartime history are squatting in a vacant Belgravia mansion—the owners having fled London under heavy Luftwaffe bombing. Psychologist and Investigator Maisie Dobbs visits the mansion on behalf of the owners and discovers that a demobilized soldier, gravely ill and reeling from his experiences overseas, has taken shelter with the group.

Maisie’s quest to bring comfort to the youngsters and the ailing soldier brings to light a decades-old mystery concerning Maisie’s first husband, James Compton, who was killed while piloting an experimental fighter aircraft. As Maisie unravels the threads of her dead husband’s life, she is forced to examine her own painful past and question beliefs she has always accepted as true.

The award-winning Maisie Dobbs series has garnered hundreds of thousands of followers, readers drawn to a woman who is of her time, yet familiar in ours—and who inspires with her resilience and capacity for endurance. This final assignment of her own choosing not only opens a new future for Maisie and her family, but serves as a  fascinating portrayal of the challenges facing the people of Britain at the close of the Second World War.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641296076
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/04/2024
Series: Maisie Dobbs Series
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: eBook
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 699
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

About The Author
Jacqueline Winspear is the author of eighteen novels in the award-winning, New York Times, national and international bestselling series featuring psychologist-investigator Maisie Dobbs. In addition, Jacqueline’s 2023 nonseries novel, The White Lady, was a New York Times and national bestseller, and her 2014 WWI novel, The Care and Management of Lies, was again a New York Times and national bestseller, as well as a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist. Jacqueline has also published two nonfiction books, What Would Maisie Do? and an Edgar-nominated memoir, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing.


Ojai, California

Date of Birth:

April 30, 1955

Place of Birth:

Weald of Kent, England


The University of London¿s Institute of Education

Read an Excerpt

October 1945

The man caught a glimpse of his reflection in a shop window as he walked away from Victoria railway station. At first he did not recognize the face, nor the body below it. The shoulders were too narrow for the suit hanging about him like a shroud. “Demob suit,” they called it. They had handed him some cash too—he remembered shoving it in a pocket. One of the pockets. He couldn’t remember which one. Lingering for another second or two, he thought perhaps a shroud would have been a more appropriate fit. Might have hung a bit better on his body. He had avoided mirrors during the long journey home, not that he was home, not really. He couldn’t face home. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. Couldn’t face the wanting in the eyes of others, the wanting for him to be himself again, the man they had known so long ago. But that old self had perished, and now he was looking at the reflection of a wraith that turned out to be him. Alive. Against all odds.
     Blimey, he was tired. Bone tired. Getting up from the seat, walking through the carriage to the door, stepping off the train and then the effort of making his way along the platform to the street—it had demanded too much of his legs, his wounded body. Perambulation had taken it out of him. He had to find somewhere to lie down, to rest his head because his bones couldn’t bear the weight of it anymore. Heads were heavy old things, sitting there on top of your shoulders. He thought of his mates—they’d laughed, once, when he said they could all save themselves a lot of bother if they just lay down in a grave together like spoons in a cutlery drawer—all big heads and nothing much in the way of a body each, no more than very long spoon handles. Then the laughing hurt their caved-in chests and distended stomachs, so they stopped. He wanted to gentle the pictures in his mind, let the memories settle into the past, banish them, make them go away and the ghosts disappear.
     Passing a street of four-story mansions—grand residences that should have been white, but London’s soot, smog and war had rendered them grey and lifeless, though in truth it was a miracle they were still standing—he made his way to the narrow mews flanking the semicircular sweep behind those too-big houses where gentry lived. He remembered the number of the house he was looking for. Number fifteen, a house that, cross fingers, was still empty; mothballed for the duration and not yet opened up. He was sure he could gain entry via the mews. There was a means to do it, a way to get in.
     He wasn’t sure how he managed—perhaps luck had remained with him, because it was a blimmin’ miracle he was alive at all—but soon he was at the top of steps leading down to the kitchen door. The servants’ and tradesman’s entrance. He remembered coming to the house with his dad when he was a boy, to see his dad’s employer. This was the door his dad had knocked on.
     No one was about today—lucky for him, it was a quiet area. Quiet for London, anyway. Taking a penknife from the pocket of his overcoat, he slipped the smaller of two blades into the lock and jiggled it around. He knew how to work a lock—he had mastered the craft as a nipper, until his dad caught him and gave him a clip round the ear for his trouble, telling him he wasn’t having a criminal in his house, and if he found out his boy was carrying on like that again, he would take him to the police station himself. “See how being put away suits you, son.” He never fiddled a lock again—until today.
     Easy. The door could have done with some oil on the hinges, squealing as he closed it behind him, but who was around to hear? They were all away, safe in the country, settling back into being normal. He wouldn’t ever be normal again—he knew that. He’d seen what war could do even when he was a child. He only had to look at his dad.
     Back stairs. He knew there were back stairs. There were always back stairs in a gaff like this, for the servants to move silently in and out of rooms in those days before two wars, when the sort of people who lived upstairs had lots of servants. Bloody servants were likely all dead. Hitler bombed the workers first. That’s what his mum had told him in a letter. It was a note received a long time ago, before his own terror began. She told him they had bombed the docks and all them back-to-back houses in the East End at the same time. Their old house had gone—lucky his mum and dad moved out of there when they had the chance, when he and his brother were still boys. Moved up in the world, his mum and dad. Out of the East End and into the suburbs.
     He staggered up three flights, into a corridor of old servants’ quarters. Cast-iron bed frames with the mattresses rolled up and blankets stacked with pillows on top. All blue ticking and no covers. It was a wonder the mice hadn’t had them, or the moths. Mind you, too cold for moths. He stared at the bedding. Soon sort that out, soon lay my bones down. He rolled out a mattress and pillow, all but fell onto the bed and pulled a blanket across his body. The sleep of the dead beckoned like a soft hand taking his, while a voice whispered in his now half-conscious mind, “Rest now. Put your head on the pillow. Sleep, my dear big brother, sleep.”
     She had always come to him, his sister. Every day when he buried another mate, another bag of bones to be laid to rest, or not, because he was sure even the dead didn’t rest in that place. There was something coming for all of them. If it wasn’t a bayonet in the gut, it was malaria. Dysentery. Beriberi. Cholera. But now he could settle. He was away from all that.
“Tenko! Tenko! Tenko!”
     The man opened his eyes wide and screamed as the machete pressed into his back.
     “Hold on, mister. Hold on. You alright?”
     He turned and stared at the girl before him as he shimmied away, his back to the wall.
     “Don’t be scared, mister. I only poked you with my finger—thought it was time you woke up. You’ve been spark out for hours and hours. I’ve brought you a cuppa. Bit weak. We don’t have much here.”
     “Who are you?” The man struggled to move again, to even breathe, the weight of blankets almost too much for his frame.
     “Might ask you the same question.” The girl held the cup of tea. “You was shivering, so we put more blankets on you. Looked like you were all in.” She reached forward to lift his head, but stopped when he flinched. “Alright, just try to sit up on your own.” Still the man struggled, so with care, making sure he could see her hand as she moved toward him and slipped it under his head, she put the cup to his lips. “Here, get this down you. We’ve made a fire downstairs, in the kitchen. Blimmin’ big house, this, so we’re keeping to the kitchen and a couple of other rooms; bedding down there to keep warm when it’s really cold.”
     The man sipped the weak tea. “I asked you once—who are you?”
     “Me and my mates, we found out the place was empty and we moved in—why not? The people what own it don’t need it, do they? If they did, they’d be here, living in the house. A lot of the toffs left these big houses and got out of London, you know, when the bombs came. And if the place isn’t in use and you can find your way in, there’s laws to protect you. Squatter’s rights and all that. If you can get through the door or a window what someone’s left ajar, you might as well stay. Looks like you thought the same. It’s cold in this place though, but not as nippy as some of them barracks the Yanks left behind—homeless people have moved into them too.” She looked at him as if he didn’t quite grasp the situation. “There’s tons of homeless now, everywhere. They reckon there’s a couple hundred thousand without a roof over their heads. Not just people like us, but whole families and children, and men and women with nowhere to go, on account of all the houses bombed.”
     He sipped more tea. “Don’t you and your mates have family to take you in? You’re a bit young to be dossing down here.”
     The girl shrugged. “Yeah, well, we sort of had people. Anyway, we were called up and now it’s, you know, hard to go back.”
     “You were too young for the services—stop telling me porky pies.”
     The girl shook her head. “No I’m not, mister. It’s not a lie. We was all called up, and it was for special work in case of the invasion. Besides, I’ve told you too much now. I can’t talk about it anymore. There’s four of us, all together—me, I’m Mary, then there’s the others.”
     “All living here?”
     She shrugged. “And now there’s you. Five.”
     He took a deep breath and sat up. “I can manage.” With shaking hands, he took the cup from the girl and sipped more tea.
     “What’s a tenko? You were shouting it out in your sleep.”
     The man flinched again. “A word I picked up in the army.”
     “Funny word, that. Where did you hear it?”
     “A long way away, love. A very long way away.”
She stared at him. “There’s something else, mister whatever-your-name-is. We can’t let you go now. You’ve got to stay in this house, because you know we’re living here, and you know my name.”
     “Look, Mary, there’s going to be plenty of people knowing you’re here soon enough, and I’m not one for telling tales.” He drained the cup. “Anyway, what’ve you been up to? You in trouble?”
     “It’s not what we’ve been up to, mister. It’s what some people think we’ve been up to.”
     The man shook his head and lay back on the pillow, his eyes closing once again, as if he could fight sleep no longer. The girl caught the cup before it crashed to the floor. As she came to her feet, a boy, about the same age, no more than sixteen years old, opened the door.
     “Do you know who he is?”
     She shrugged. “He didn’t say. Poor old sod looks like death though—I mean, none of us is carrying weight, but let’s face it, none of us has seen anyone as thin as him. He’s like a bag of bones wrapped in brown paper. He’s a soldier though.”
     “Got a wallet on him? Identification card?”
     “If he has, it’s inside his jacket and it’s wrapped tight under that overcoat. You can see he’s wearing one of them cheap demob suits they hand out to soldiers when they get out of the army. We’ll have to wait until he’s slept a bit more, then I’ll find out.”
     “Archie’s gone out again to get some nosh.”
     “Hope he’s careful.”
     The boy rolled his eyes. “Archie could get in and out of the market and no one would know he’s been in there.”
     The girl named Mary laughed. “And lucky for us them posh people what own this place left a lot of tinned stuff in the pantry.”
     “It was probably the servants’ food. The gentry eat well, don’t they? But tinned is alright by me. Food is food.”
     “Come on, Jim, let’s go back downstairs,” said Mary. “And don’t forget to turn off them lights again. We don’t want the coppers coming.”
     “Never mind looking for us—they could be after him.”
     “Tenko! Tenko! Tenko!”
     The boy named Jim jumped backwards. “Blimey, what’s he screaming now?”
     “He did that when I tried to wake him up. It’s something from the army, he said. Not the British army and that’s a fact. Come on, let’s leave him to it. I reckon he’ll have gone to meet his maker by the time we come back in here again, and then we’ll have to work out what to do with his body—not that there’s much of it to do anything with.”

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