My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is 1937 and Europe is on the inexorable path that will lead to World War II. Maisie Dobbs is in Gibraltar, the strategic position of which makes it invaluable as a listening post for many countries. Spies seem to be lurking around every corner and some of them are inordinately interested in what Maisie is doing.
And what is Maisie doing? Well, she is trying to come to terms with a recent double tragedy in her life.
She had married her lover, James Compton, and moved with him to Canada where he was employed testing aircraft that would play an integral part in any war to come. It was a happy time for her. She was eight months pregnant with their first child. Then catastrophe struck.
The plane that James was testing went down in a fiery crash and James was killed. This all happened as Maisie watched. She started running toward the crash site, tripped and fell. Her child was delivered early and was dead. On one momentous day, she lost the two loves of her life.
After she was sufficiently recovered physically, she sailed for England by way of India. She spent some quiet and peaceful time in India and then continued on, but when she got to Gibraltar, she found herself not ready to face her friends' and family's sympathy and the familiar surroundings that she had shared with James, so she disembarked and decided to spend some time there and wait for a later ship to take her home.
Placing Maisie in Gibraltar gives Jacqueline Winspear an opportunity to explore some of the events leading up to the world war, as well as some of the tangled relationships between various countries and political groups. Nearby, the civil war in Spain is raging and both the communists and the fascists are present and attempting to further their cause in Gibraltar. A Dangerous Place indeed.
Maisie soon becomes embroiled in the efforts of a group of people supporting the Republican cause in Spain. She does this by stumbling over a dead body on a dark path near her hotel one night. Having found the body, she feels a responsibility to find out what happened to the man and how he came to be struck down. This leads her down some dangerous paths as she gets to know his family and associates and tries to learn what he was doing that might have led someone to want him dead.
I felt that Winspear did a very good job of describing the setting and developing a real feel for what must have been the fraught atmosphere of those times. Moreover, since Maisie is adrift without her usual cast of secondary characters, the author introduced several strong and sympathetic new characters. Many of these characters have secrets and are not what they first appear to be. They add complexity and a new element of suspense to the story.
This was quite different from the usual Maisie Dobbs tale that we've come to know. But, again, Winspear does a good job of weaving Maisie's backstory into the plot, so she is able to recount her rags-to-riches narrative, her tragic experience as a nurse in World War I, and her time as an independent businesswoman in London and make it all come together in a coherent account. Even if one had not read the earlier books in this series, this book could easily be read as a standalone.
So, where is Maisie to go from here? She and the series are at a crossroads it seems, even as the world itself reaches a crossroads. Will she follow the world into war once again? Will she become a spy? Winspear has given us quite a lot to think about here and it will be interesting to see where she takes her character next.
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