Hard to believe that Winspear has Maisie Dobbs enduring such devastating tragedy in a rapidly changing world that pits loyalty against betrayal and
joie de vivre against despair. As A Dangerous Place opens, Maisie--unable to face returning to England--has stopped off in Gibraltar, hoping the place will offer a means of defecting her thoughts away from the expectations of her father and stepmother and from all the calamity that has recently defined her life. Here in this beautiful area of the world, Maisie
endures sleepless nights and dark memories as she comes to terms with her “powerlessness against fate.”
Gibraltar in 1937
teems with refugees, government officials, and soldiers and sailors--and also black-market profiteers, shepherding arms to the Nationalists fighting in the Spanish Civil War just a few miles north. Into this mix falls Maisie, a woman considered instrumental in not allowing “the dust to settle” on the death of local wedding photographer Sebastian Babayoff.
According to Michael Marsh, an inspector with the Gibraltar police, the case is
cut and dried. Babayoff had been murdered by a transient, perhaps one of the many refugees filtering over the boarder from Spain. Marsh is annoyed by Maisie’s insistence that perhaps Babayoff’s death was not a simple case of robbery, not when the man’s
Leica camera was still on a strap around his neck.
A man called Arturo Kenyon furtively watches Maisie’s every move; he’s been ordered by Brian Huntley of the English Secret Service to constantly keep an eye on her. Well aware that she’s being watched, and ever-alert to larger forces at work, Maisie herself feels ill-equipped to investigate Babayoff’s death, yet is compelled by the very fact that she had discovered his body. As Maisie’s instinct presses her to keep the Leica and the film it holds, she’s unable to
keep from becoming more involved in Sebastian’s death.
In Gibraltar, a town of cobbled streets, whitewashed terrace houses, and picaresque window boxes with summer blooms, Maisie’s first stop is the home of lustrous dark-haired Miriam Babayoff, the dead man’s sister.
Like Maisie, Miriam too is being observed--and just like Maisie, she’s so very fragile, as “if she was made of the finest glass and could shatter at any moment.” While another older sister is confined to a wheelchair,\ and adds a layer of mystery to the proceedings, there
is also Sebastian’s connection to Carlos Grillo, an elderly fisherman who had recently died of a heart attack and who had come to consider Sebastian as his son.
By accident and perhaps fate, Maisie begins the tortuous process of dismantling Babayoff’s carefully calibrated life.
For much of the early part of the investigation, Maisie is unable to cope. Her
habitual visits to Jacob Solomon’s haberdashery shop, to the village café, and her stay at Mrs. Bishop’s small guesthouse
are the only way she can drown out her sadness. There are the morphia tablets and the occasional cigarette, yet another way for Maisie to forget the scar on her belly and the terrifying image of the aeroplane
crashing and exploding in the distance. War, meanwhile, is always close at the border, a war that seems to mirror the depth of the scars across Maisie’s heart.
Using the epistolary form to bookend her novel. Winspear explores how Maisie must embrace a new kind of future far from the comfort of marriage and children. Using Sebastian’s death to deflect her thoughts from what has become of her life, Maisie ponders motives and relationships, trusting no one as she speculates one deadly scenario after another.
Almost everyone she’s met since arriving in Gibraltar seems to have his or her own agenda, all connected in some way to Sebastian. From the nationalists and fascists to the British who straddle their options while trying to keep Herr Hitler happy, Maisie uncovers a complex web where certain men manipulate those in power and who are likely inspired
by the many who are fighting.
The backdrop of the novel is a place unlike no other, hauntingly beautiful
and as provocative as Gibraltar’s giant rock that constantly hangs over the
action. Winspear’s lush descriptions of Gibraltar and its colorful seaside village of Catalan teeter between sun-drenched glory days of summer and cool autumn days that reflect Maisie’s mistral-biting despair. Maisie may be heading into Spain’s civil war, and she may once again be about to look into the flames of battle, yet she’s eventually put into a new kind of place: witnessing the struggle of kindly Sister Teresa, a Spanish Nun who attends to patients with gangrene along with the wounded men coming in from the Hills.
Winspear has created a beautiful gem with the strong theme of the power of love and its ability to heal at the heart of Maisie’s story. Winspear
also delivers plenty of intrigue and action. Espionage and murder aside, the
true journey is how Maisie comes back from the brink. Maisie possesses well-developed values as well as an independence of spirit and mind, all of which provide her with the foundation to handle the struggles she will meet in this exciting, heartwarming story.