Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Dangerous Place
Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

A Dangerous Place
by Jacqueline Winspear
Allison & Busby, 2015

A Dangerous Place is the eleventh novel in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is a private investigator who served as a nurse at the front during World War One. Working with an ex-soldier, Billy Beale, she solves crimes related to the war. Unlike Winspear's previous novels, A Dangerous Place is set in 1937 and not the 1920s, and in Gibraltar rather than London. By 1937 Maisie has changed. She is a widow who has not only lost her husband and baby daughter but also her faith in herself as a detective — can she still solve crimes? Does she remember what she has been taught by her mentor, Dr Maurice Blanche? Can she return to England and pick up her life again as a single woman and as a private investigator?

As the story progresses it becomes increasingly clear that despite her fears, Maisie has in fact not lost her skill as a private investigator. As she solves the mystery of Sebastian Babayoff's death she recalls the valuable lessons she had learned as a detective in London in the 1920s. Describing herself as an advocate for the dead, she forces herself to remember everything she was taught by Maurice Blanche: "the dead have stories to tell — that even following the most dreadful passing, there is evidence to suggest what had happened to that person" (38). Maurice had also taught her that "duty [is] about doing all in our power to bring a sense of...a sense of rest and calm to those left behind" (38). Like all good detectives, Maisie knows that her primary task is to restore order so that all can move on, including herself.

Author Jacqueline Winspear
A Dangerous Place gives many valuable insights into Maisie's most important principles: "Knowledge is the light. Come out of the darkness one lamp at a time. Paint your picture of what came to pass question by question — and remember, some are never meant to be answered because the response closes the door to knowledge you most want and need" (45). As she reflects on the dreadful images of her husband's fatal accident and her unborn baby's death shortly afterward she recalls what Maurice once told her: "Watch the image, and let it go. Take note of it, know that it is there, and allow it to move away, across the landscape of your mind's eye.Allow yourself to see connections"(111). Maisie remembers these things both for herself and for her case as she buries herself in retracing Sebastian's last days and discovers the reason for his murder.

There is, however, one important principle that Maisie has forgotten and one which she has always followed in previous cases, namely to spend time with the victim. Maisie has not seen Sebastian's body, and, even more important, she has failed to investigate his past. It is not until halfway through the story that she realizes these omissions; characteristically, however, once realized, she sets about rectifying them with admirable determination and efficiency.

Order Now
By chapter 15, Maisie is clearly once more the brave, determined, and sensitive investigator of the previous novels. In this chapter she follows Sebastian's trail to Spain, a country now torn by war. It is here that she finds the answers to her questions and also acknowledges for the first time that she not only needs to rediscover herself as a detective but also to return to her former profession as a nurse and work through her pain both physically and emotionally. On a short visit to a small hospital in the mountains outside Madrid Maisie is given the opportunity to tend wounded soldiers. Her decision to return to the hospital at the end of the novel is an acknowledgement that she has finally learned to shoulder her grief. With her case solved and with her therapeutic work at the hospital complete the reader is in no doubt that she will be able to return to England and her family and pick up the threads of her former life.

Gibraltar is an excellent choice for the setting of A Dangerous Place. As the narrator explains, "perhaps someone who felt the depth of scars across her heart every day could be at home in a place with so many reminders of war, with war still so close, across the border" (87). In Gibraltar and Spain Maisie learns how "to slay the dragon of memory" (90). It is no coincidence that the name of the baby girl Maisie delivers in the Spanish hospital on her first visit is "Hope". Maisie is ready to move on. And indeed so are we as readers as we eagerly await the next episode in the adventures of private investigator Maisie Dobbs.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam


  1. Sounds great! I'm going to order it today. Thanks for the fine review.

  2. My pleasure. You will not be disappointed, especially if you have read the whole series, starting with 'Maisie Dobbs'. I warmly recommend the entire series! Happy reading!