A Dangerous Place (A Maisie Dobbs Novel)
By Jacqueline Winspear
Rating: 4/5 Stairs
At the ending of the last Maisie Dobbs, Leaving Everything Most Loved, it felt like Maisie was at a turning point in her life. And she was. A Dangerous Place picks up three years later, in the aftermath of a personal tragedy for Maisie.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Maisie has been a private investigator and psychologist in London for a number of years. You do not have to have read any previous Maisie Dobbs novels to start with this one. In fact, A Dangerous Place is quite different from the rest of the books in the series.
Ms. Winspear does an excellent job of informing the reader of the events of Maisie’s life from March 1934 to April 1937 in the very first chapter, through a series of letters. As a longtime reader of the series, I was deeply saddened by the direction Ms. Winspear decided to take with Maisie and a character very close to her heart, but at the same time I understand that sometimes these events need to occur to keep the characters interesting and the series moving forward.
[I]t was her father’s face that came to mind as she stood in the bright sunshine, thinking of the terrible pain he would feel if he knew how she was enduring an existence rather than living a life.
At the beginning of the novel, Maisie is lost. She cannot bear returning to her life in England, and ends up in Gibraltar.
We must bring light to the darkened room, Maisie. Maurice’s voice echoed down the years, and it was as if he were with her. Knowledge is the light. Information is the light. Come out of the darkness one lamp at a time.
Now, this quote referencing the light is advice for Maisie when pursuing an investigation. But I felt like it was speaking to Maisie’s grief as well. She had been grieving for eighteen long months, trapped in her own darkness. And it was time to start making her way out of that darkness in Gibraltar. Maisie stumbles upon the murder of a young photographer, and she channels her energy into investigating who he was and why he died. As her investigation continues, it begins to give her the strength she needs to start to heal and find the direction she has been longing for.
This book is not a clear-cut mystery story, there are also themes of war throughout. A civil war is beginning in Spain between the Nationalists and the Republican Army. And of course there are the hints of Herr Hitler and events yet to come.
“In any game there is a winner and a loser, and the purpose of those planes is to increase the chances of winning. But in war there are no real winners – too many lives are lost, too much pain to endure. How can we look back at any war and say, ‘We won’?”
Typically in a Maisie Dobbs book, Maisie is looking to find justice and bring comfort and healing to the victim’s loved ones. In this book, Maisie really is trying to find healing for herself. I found the writing of Maisie’s grief and journey to be quite beautiful throughout the novel.
“Memories come out of nowhere, sometimes, don’t they? Like a splinter long in the finger finally rises to the surface. Pluck it out, and the pain goes – and you realize there has been discomfort all along, but you have lived with it.”
She had wondered many times, during the war and then in the course of her work, how people could bear so much loss. She had met women who’d lost not just one son but two or three and a husband. Like them, she had learned how to shoulder grief, and knew she would see a clear path ahead, in time.
It wasn’t quite a five star for me, but an excellent read. I think the part that didn’t quite work for me was the British Secret Service piece. It seems that Ms. Winspear is probably setting up for Maisie’s future direction, but the Secret Service mixed in with Maisie’s healing process felt a bit jumbled. I also missed the regular characters, especially Billy and Priscilla. But a beautiful book overall. And as always, the cover art was gorgeous. Looking forward to the next one.