Jacqueline Winspear, author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs series, has created a new character for readers to admire. Part Agatha Christie, part “The Equalizer,” The White Lady follows Elinor White, a former World War II operative unafraid to leverage her past to help those who cannot help themselves.
It’s 1947, and Elinor has settled into a home in the British countryside, one granted to her by the government as thanks for her classified service to the nation. Her bucolic life is missing one thing, though: the sense of purpose that came with her wartime career. But when Elinor sees her neighbors Jim and Rose Mackie being violently harassed by Jim’s criminal family, she decides to use her skills to protect them.
The White Lady alternates between Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie crime family in 1947, her work during World War II and her initiation into espionage as a Belgian teenager during World War I. Winspear’s writing is especially effective when conveying the incredible danger Elinor and her sister, Cecily, face as they work to undermine the German military, and the wrenching moral decisions that come with such work.
The traumas of the past, especially the difficulty of leaving violence behind, are constant refrains throughout the novel. Elinor is haunted by the premature loss of her childhood innocence and, eventually, her family, while Jim and Rose struggle to escape Jim’s criminal birthright. Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie family is prompted by her affection for Jim, Rose and especially their young daughter, Susie, but it also provides her with a way to seek absolution for the terrible things she did as a spy.
The White Lady doesn’t shy away from dark subjects, and historical mystery readers searching for a bit of grit and a complex main character will admire its uncompromising storytelling.