Vail book review: ‘A Dangerous Place,’ by Jaqueline Winspear
Summer in the Vail Valley is so spectacular that a “staycation” with an engrossing story set in a faraway place can be hard to beat.
“A Dangerous Place” is the 10th story of Maisie Dobbs’ adventures set in the two decades between the world wars. The resilient British detective and psychologist has delighted readers since 2003, and author Jacqueline Winspear has produced another charming story in the series that began with “Maisie Dobbs,” winner of the Agatha Christie Award for Best First Novel.
Dobbs, now a young widow, is in the British Territory of Gibraltar off the southern coast of Spain — an unexpected stop on a long journey to sort her life after personal tragedy. (Light summer reading doesn’t often include tragedy, and Winspear quickly moves the story into mystery and suspense.) Consistent with Dobbs’ independent spirit — a scandalous strength that mirrors attitudes empowering the era’s suffragette movement — she deals with her losses alone, keeping at bay those who love her and want her home to heal.
She has overcome much already. Her nursing stint in World War I damaged her body and psyche. Tenacity and intellect buoyed her from poverty and to Cambridge. These traits kept her safe during dangerous investigative work sometimes commissioned by Scotland Yard. Her love life sputtered at best, often neglected, in a very contemporary fashion, as she pursued her career.
In “A Dangerous Place,” she stumbles on the still-warm, dead body of a Jewish photographer. Despite pressure from local police and British Secret Service to ignore the inconsistencies of the crime, Dobbs realizes that sleuthing can help her regain herself — something she must do before she can pick up the pieces to move on. She persists in her questions because she believes justice is a fundamental right.
She is Maisie Dobbs, so she investigates.
“A Dangerous Place” brings Dobbs full circle. She works alone, as she did on cases in early books, relying solely on her instincts, reasoning and observations. She carries more psychological baggage now. Personal losses replace the war trauma that haunted her at night, and her habit of unsettling nightmares has returned. She struggles to discard the protective numbness that dulls her senses, just as she did when decommissioned, badly wounded, from a field hospital hit by enemy shelling in “Maisie Dobbs.”
In short, she has matured into a complex and sophisticated woman of the world.
In many ways, Dobbs’ evolution parallels the sweeping global changes of the time, when empires cracked and power shifted to unsettle the status quo. Gibraltar, much like Istanbul, was a magnet for agents and double agents between the end of World War I in 1918, and into the 1950s. “A Dangerous Place” is peppered with Fascists and Communists, Spaniards and Italians, and ordinary citizens praying that gathering political storm clouds don’t foretell another bloodbath.
Winspear doesn’t distract the reader with history, but uses historic political unrest as a colorful backdrop that provides reasonable context. Her writing is picturesque and appropriate for a work of historical fiction.
Just as there is much to admire about the character of Maisie Dobbs, whose strengths and frailties are endearing and realistic, there is much to admire about Winspear. She keeps the series as engaging for new readers as for those who pre-order the next book when the release date is announced.
A few chapters in Gibraltar might be the perfect ending for a day spent on a dusty hike, or in a drift boat tossing double dries to hungry trout, or just watching battalions of honeybees dip in and out of the foxglove. “A Dangerous Place,” published by HarperCollins, is available at The Bookworm of Edwards and other booksellers.
Eagle County local NLB Horton (NLBHorton.com) is the author of two successful works of international suspense, “When Camels Fly” and “The Brothers’ Keepers.” Both are available at The Bookworm of Edwards and at other booksellers, and her third book will be released in 2016.