Jacqueline Winspear, A Dangerous Place (2015)
Welcome to the Maisie Dobbs readalong! TLC Book Tours is hosting a month-long celebration of the first eleven books in this popular historical mystery series, on the occasion of the release of number twelve, Journey to Munich, on March 29. I’ll be posting about that title next month, but in the meantime I had the chance to read and review one of the earlier books in the series.
I chose the eleventh book, A Dangerous Place, thinking it might be helpful as a lead-in to the new one, for although I’ve read the first volume, Maisie Dobbs, which introduced me to the former housemaid turned detective/psychologist in 1920s London, I never continued with the other installments. However, it turns out that Winspear does quite a bit of exposition in each book in order to orient new readers, so that wasn’t really an issue. More problematic is what she does to longtime followers of the series in this one: a seemingly happy event anticipated in earlier books is cut short by tragedy, with all the shocking events reported in a cursory manner through second-hand reportage, documents, and letters in the space of just a few pages. Other readers have complained that there should have been a whole book or even two to cover such an important stage in Maisie’s life, and I would tend to agree, even though I don’t feel betrayed in the same way as some of the fans of the series, who have invested so much time and emotional energy in following her adventures.
Once this extremely peculiar beginning is past, including at least 25 rather awkward pages of retrospect and flashback, we settle into Maisie’s point of view and get into the main thread of the story. It’s 1937 and Maisie has jumped ship in Gibraltar, unable to quite face going home to England after her traumatic experiences. She becomes involved in investigating the murder of a young photographer, whose death seems to be connected to the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War taking place just across the border. In trying to help others in this dangerous place, can she find the way back to life for herself?
Maybe it was because Maisie herself was still in a state of shock, or perhaps because of the oddly distant way her tragedy was reported, but I couldn’t feel much connection to her in this book. The descriptions of her grief and misery, which lead her even to the edge of suicide, left me cold. I’m all for a well-rounded mystery that gets us into the minds and hearts of its characters, but the inner drama here failed to pique my interest enough to outweigh a sluggish, slow-moving plot.
The historical setting is a fascinating one, and the outward events truly dramatic — the bombing of Guernica takes place during the novel, as Maisie observes Fascist planes flying over Gibraltar — but even this promising material failed to completely capture my imagination. I’m not giving up on Maisie Dobbs, though; along with following her into the next book, I’d like to pick up some of the earlier ones in the series to see if one of them will spark more more interest for me.
And don’t take my word for it — for more on all the books in the Maisie Dobbs series, do visit the tour page and see what other bloggers have to say!