Tuesday, March 17, 2015

book review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory: A Dangerous Place is the eleventh historical mystery featuring Maisie Dobbs. My reviews of the other eleven (plus Winspear's stand alone historical novel) are in my Book Review Database.

The basics: Set four years after the last Maisie Dobbs novel, Leaving Everything Most Loved, in A Dangerous Place, we meet up with Maisie in Gibraltar in 1927 during the Spanish Civil War. She gets off her England-bound ship in Gibraltar because she's not quite ready to return.

Note: this review contains spoilers about what happened in those four years of Maisie's life between books, all of which are revealed in this novel's first thirty pages. 

My thoughts: Sunday I wrote about the Maisie Mail I received. These postcards appear in the book itself, along with many others. After setting the stage in Gibraltar in the opening pages (Maisie stumbles upon a dead body), Winspear recounts the last four years of Maisie's life in the form of postcards, letters, and telegrams. As I read them, I was so shocked I had to set the book aside for a few days. Maisie did marry James. They moved to Canada. She got pregnant. James died. And then she lost her baby at eight months of gestation. As a reader, I struggled with Winspear's choices here. I have spent years (and many books) rooting for Maisie and James. To have their wedding and married life occur off the page seemed hollow. To also have James die and to come back with a very sad Maisie didn't quite ring true.

Once I picked the book up again, I enjoyed the experience. I love Maisie, and even as I felt this book was emotionally overwrought because of its timing, it was fascinating to explore Gibraltar with Maisie. The mystery at the center of this novel was intriguing, but it felt too convenient. How fortuitous for Maisie to stumble across any body, but that she did with this particular dead body, which is so connected to so many aspects of the Spanish Civil War in Gibraltar, stretched the boundaries of coincidence.

I'm quite critical of this novel in many ways because I am so invested in the series and Maisie as a character. I anticipated a time jump and new secondary characters (and even posed the question if she would come back married and with a baby, but I did not think that would actually happen.) As a fresh start for the series, I enjoyed A Dangerous Place, but I question Winspear's choices of timing. It was challenging to see Maisie in such pain, when I didn't really share those experiences with her. Instead, I absorbed them through twelve pages of letters, which gave me emotional whiplash and made me feel so disconnected fro Maisie and her experiences. Winspear has written the death of other main characters in the series in such emotional ways, I felt particularly shortchanged to lose James in such a way.

Favorite passage: "No one is clean in a time of war."

The verdict: A Dangerous Place is a lovely exploration of Gibraltar in 1937 and the Spanish Civil War. The mystery at the center of the novel wasn't as intriguing as I would have liked, and it was hard to see Maisie in such pain throughout this novel. By the novel's end, I was back on the bandwagon and despite my issues with some of Winspear's storytelling choices around the time jump, I'm eagerly awaiting my next encounter with Maisie. I just hope no other characters die in the time between the end of this novel and the start of the next one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: March 17, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Dangerous Place from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Jacqueline Winspear's website and like her on Facebook.

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1 comment:

  1. I've never read any of Winspear's book, but the covers have always attracted me. Someday i will get to them because I love when they are set and I think I already love Maisie Dobbs without ever having read her.

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