If you’re looking for an engaging mystery featuring an adult and sophisticated Nancy Drew-type heroine, characters that evoke Downton Abbey, a 1930s film noir feel, and an exotic setting in a turbulent time period, put this latest in the series of fan-favorite Maisie Dobbs mystery novels on your reading list.
Maisie is a psychologist, investigator, and former World War I nurse on her way back to England via Canada and India in 1937. Still grieving over the dual losses of her test pilot husband and unborn child, she feels she can’t yet face the familiarity of her English home and decides to hastily disembark ship on the penultimate port of the voyage in dangerous and strategically-located Gibraltar.
“The Rock,” as Gibraltar is known, is a hotbed of activity, intrigue, refuge, and politics during the Spanish Civil War that is raging just miles away from this British garrison area. Many warn her to leave, but Maisie checks in to a hotel and that first night literally trips over a dead body and two cameras strewn nearby in the hotel’s gardens. The dead man, Sebastian Babayoff, is a prominent photographer and member of the Jewish Sephardic community of Gibraltar. Maisie is determined to learn more about the murder and sets out to solve the case.
In the face of constant opposition and suspicions, she methodically uncovers clue after clue as she inches closer to the dangerous truths playing out. Gibraltar is filled with shady characters, double agents, Germans, British, and floods of refugees. Innkeepers and restaurant owners keep tabs on Maisie as hostile forces follow her every step. She finds that the close-knit Sephardic community and the dead man’s sisters are involved in clandestine activities with the local fishing community. Maisie doggedly and courageously uses her intelligence, training, skills, and investigative techniques, many of which were learned at the tutelage of her mentor, detective Dr. Maurice Blanche, in her pursuit of answers.
A Dangerous Place builds upon the past books of the series, but the author skillfully covers the background information and events for new readers to feel comfortable with Maisie’s life story. Maisie’s personality and character guide the gripping action. Although her grief and suffering are felt, so is her determination to face the world again. The mystery becomes her salvation and life force.
This is a well-written and well-paced page-turning novel. Historical fiction fans will savor the accurate and nuanced portrait Winspear presents of the Spanish Civil War. The politics of Franco, the International Brigades, Republicans, Nationalists, Fascism, Socialism, and the tragic bombing of Guernica are all outlined and enveloped in the intrigue, and a final plot twist pulls Maisie and history together.