Maisie Dobbs is the creation of Jacqueline Winspear and she is my favourite fictional detective to date. I’m a bit of a book tart in my reading tastes – pretty much anything goes, except crime or thrillers which leave me unable to sleep at night, forensics or gore, or horror. I only lightly touch on science fiction as well but I enjoy the occasional fantasy or dystopian novel. Maisie, however, is a fictional detective I really enjoy reading about. The series reminds me slightly in style of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series but there is greater depth with Jacqueline Winspear’s novels.
A Dangerous Place is the 11th in the series based on Maisie Dobbs and, although it seems to have divided opinion amongst Maisie fans, I enjoyed it almost as much as I have enjoyed the rest of the series.
If you go back and begin at the beginning (as the King says in Alice in Wonderland), the first book introduces us to a young Maisie Dobbs who has just started up her own private detective practice in London, in 1929. Independent self-employed young woman in London in the 1920s – I fell in love with this straight away! You sense in Maisie, from the beginning, a sensitivity, spirituality and sadness which makes for an interesting and empathetic character. Maisie’s first assignment as private investigator turns out to be a harrowing one for her personally, as it takes her to a convalescent home for severely wounded veterans of the First World War. This forces her to face her demons and flashbacks back to her time as a nurse on the battlefields in France.
Subsequent novels take Maisie through the 1930s, with moments of joy and humour, as well as psychological investigation and touches of sadness. She develops into a fiercely independent, modern woman and, as an investigator, into one with a talent for solving crimes where compassion and understanding of the human psyche are often involved. She takes on a couple of assistants, Sandra and Billy, each with troubled backgrounds of their own, and by the end of Book 10 the reader is hoping for developments on the romance front, with travel and marriage on the near horizon.
The joy is short-lived as Book 11 takes quite a different path from the one the reader is expecting…
A Dangerous Place very soon has Maisie embroiled in a suspicious murder and missing murderer in Gibraltar, right on the edge of the horrific goings on next door in Spain, in the Spanish Civil War. Maisie has suffered great tragedy and is on her way back to England after a spell in India. She stops off in Gibraltar and can’t help but get involved in trying to solve this murder which she stumbles across, quite literally, one evening while out for a stroll. Maisie finds her old investigative curiosity and skills returning and feels as though solving this crime will lead her back into the real world and ready her for her return to England, her family and friends.
I was slightly disappointed that the author glossed over Maisie’s (much anticipated from previous novels) marriage to the lovely James and their happy times together in Canada; picking up the story again after summarising the tragic fate of James and their unborn baby. It is a shame that the author felt she could only write Maisie in her grief-stricken and troubled state as we, the reader, having come to love Maisie after ten previous novels, would have liked to share in her moment of happiness before tragedy struck home again. Stylistically though, I could see why Jacqueline Winspear chose to continue the story this way; I was just a little disappointed not to share in Maisie’s moment of joy.
Other Maisie fans have criticised the direction Maisie is headed in, with her becoming drawn into espionage instead of her usual private detective crime solving. To me, however, this makes sense. I have read the synopsis for the forthcoming book 12, Journey to Munich, and it is quite understandable that the secret services would be recruiting investigative talent like Maisie as women spies were every bit as sought after in the Second World War as their male counterparts. Hopefully, espionage will turn out to not quite her thing and she’ll return to what she loves doing best but it seems perfectly plausible that she should be recruited for her abilities in the war effort.
My main criticism is that something about the final chapters seems a little rushed and doesn’t hang together quite as well as the rest of the novel. The plot becomes quite muddy and, in places, slightly repetitive. The author clearly has a good researcher but with this novel it’s almost as if she doesn’t fully grasp the scene of her characters; whereas in earlier novels she takes the reader right there to the time and the place. There’s also something rather touching about the way that Maisie usually ties up all of the loose ends, meditates on the outcomes and revisits all of the places that were significant in her investigations, for personal closure on the case. In this book, this was hinted at more than made explicit and it didn’t make for quite the same feeling of satisfaction as an ending.
I enjoyed A Dangerous Place and I love the series as a whole but I am hoping for a return to better form with the next one, Journey to Munich. (It will be out in hardback in the UK on 1st April 2016).
About the Author
[From the book blurb] Jacqueline Winspear has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Originally from Britain, Jacqueline now lives in the United States.
Where to Buy
You can buy A Dangerous Place from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £7.99.