Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Synopsis From TLC Book Tours Site:

Spring 1937.  In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability - and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure.  Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India.  But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England: her aging father, Frankie Dobbs, is not getting any younger. 

On a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn't ready to return.  Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, "You'll be alone in a most dangerous place," she disembarks in Gibraltar.  Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

And the danger is very real.  Days after Maisie's arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar's Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service.  Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on "The Rock" - arguably Britain's most important strategic territory - and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process.  At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a different direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way. 

Earlier this week I reviewed Leaving Everything Most Loved, the previous book in the Maisie Dobbs series.  In that review, I tried my damnedest to not let the fact I had already read this book, bleed into it.  For the most part, I think I did a pretty good job keeping them separate, and not letting this book color what I had to say on the previous.  I'm not going to rehash what I had to say, though I'm still having some of those same problems, only magnified about a bazillion times.

To be perfectly frank with you guys, this almost became a DNF on page nine.  When I was about half way through the page, I had to put the book down, and walk away for over an hour. Even then, I had to force myself to pick the book up and continue reading it.  Regardless of what happened to upset me so much, the fact I even contemplated not reading a Maisie Dobbs book is upsetting enough.

I've been debating how detailed I wanted to get with this review, and I think I've decided to go in a direction that will include spoilers, so please stop reading if you don't want to know some of the pertinent details. On a personal level, it will be impossible for me to review this book, and explain my reactions to it, without giving away some of the secrets.  And be warned, I may ramble for a while before I shut up.

As a long time fan of the series, I've been all for Maisie marrying James Compton, and finding true happiness in her life.  Part of the issues I had with the previous two books was in the way she kept going back and forth on what her feelings were for him, and what she wanted out of the relationship.  She has some serious  hangups when it comes to her personal relationships.  Between her childhood and her experiences in the war, I get where they come from, but enough is enough.   I've been wanting to shake her, and tell her to not only make a decision, but to make the right one. After everything she's been through, she deserved to be happy, and any idiot could tell that James made her happy.  She was just allowing her personal issues, and self doubts, to get in the way.  At the end of the Leaving Everything Most Loved, I had the impression that she was going to make the right decision, and finally agree to marry James.

On page seven of A Dangeorus Place, I got my wish. She finally agreed to marry him, and I couldn't have been happier. It was by telegram, but I was expecting that.  On page eight, through another letter, we learn that Maisie is pregnant with their first child.  Then on pages nine and ten, all hell breaks loose.  A little over a year after they were married, James is killed in a plane crash, and Maisie loses the baby.  The whole four years between the two books are told within fourteen pages, all within letters or news stories.

It's not even the loss of James and the baby that has me so upset, though I think James was a great character, and I would have liked to see them grow old together, but it's in the way it happens that pisses me off so much.  These characters deserved better than this.  It's all off page, told as more of a prologue to the book, rather than as part of the story.  It's callous in it's execution and it comes across, at least to me, that the author didn't really care for the character or their relationship anymore.  And instead of just letting her say no to the engagement, and allowing James to move on with his life, she killed him off is a rather offhanded way.  The other way I could read it, was with Maisie being in a happy place, contented with life, the author wasn't sure in which direction to take the character.  So instead of ending the series, or moving Maisie into a new chapter of her life, she chose to completely upend her life once again, and start the neuroses and inner conflict all over again.  Cause heaven forbid, we have a happy character.  After 11 damn books, the drama can end.

The other problem I had with this one, and a few of the others, is that it seems the author is moving Maisie more into the espionage realm, and less on the mystery side of things.  I'm not a huge fan of spy thrillers, regardless of who writes them, so I'm not sure how much longer I'll continue with the series if that is the direction they keep moving in.  It's repeated a few times in this book that once the Secret Service has you in their sights, they don't let you go.  I'm hoping they do let her go, and that Maisie gets back to doing what she does well, solving crimes.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the rest of the book.  I think the author did a great job in setting the scene, something she has always been really good at.  With the Spanish Civil War in full steam across the water, Gibraltar is sitting on the edge of a precipice, and anything is possible with that much tension swirling around the island.  She has populated the island with some intriguing characters, though I did find a few of them to be rather one dimensional, and the storytelling itself is as spot on as it's ever been.  Jacqueline Winspear is a great story teller, I just hope she starts taking better care of her characters.

By the end of the book, I wasn't ready to run out in traffic anymore, and I am willing to give the series one more chance.  I want the next book to get back to what the series used to be like.  Tone down some of the angst, stop making her so insecure and indecisive, and let her be happy for once in her life.  Bring Billy and Sandra back into the fold, their absence was notable in this book.  For that matter, bring her father and the senior Comptons back into the story, the lack of the regular supporting characters has been another issue for me.  Stop sliding Maisie into the spy game,  and let her reopen her detective agency.  Let Maisie be the Maisie we all fell in love with in the beginning of the series.

I don't want to say goodbye to Maisie, but I didn't want to say goodbye to Buffy Summers either.  That show lasted seven seasons, and in reality, it was time for it to be over.  The Maisie Dobbs books have now lasted through number eleven, and while I don't want to see her go, it might be her time as well.  I'm hoping that book twelve corrects some of the issues I, and a lot of other readers, have been having.  If not, maybe I'll just pretend the network pulled the plug.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.


Mystica said...

I loved this book and I like your review so much.

bermudaonion said...

As you know, I didn't love the one Maisie book I've read. At this point, I'm not sure I'm interested enough to pursue any more of the series.

Katherine P said...

This is a series that I have very mixed feelings about and your review shows me exactly why. I really like Maisie and think she's such an interesting character but I was tired of the drama and angst but book 4 which is why I haven't picked up another one. While I like how complicated Maisie is I got frustrated that there was no area in her life that she was allowed to be happy. With what you say about this book I don't think I'll be picking it up despite all I like about the series.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I have yet to read these books but I want to give them a try!

Bellezza said...

A fair, and lovely review, unlike my most unappreciative one. You'll make the author proud.

Cathy said...

We certainly see eye to eye on this book, Ryan! I went to see Winspear the day my review came out. I think host Barbara Peters, who's been a friend of the author since her first book, was as surprised and dismayed as you and I at its beginning. In fact she'd mentioned it to me a couple of times.

Of course during the event, we really couldn't talk about it because everyone else in the room had yet to read the book, but at one stage Winspear told us that she's known for a long. long time where she and Maisie are going in the series. She also had a look on her face as if she knew how many of her fans she would anger with A Dangerous Place. The next book is going to be very interesting....

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I was going to skim your review because of the spoilers but then I got sucked in and oh my gosh I'm so sad now! I have to read this one and find out how everything turns out!

Thanks for being a part of the tour Ryan.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I think if I was that upset, it would color my whole view of the book even more than it did you. Glad that you ended up liking it in the end, but yea, that would have ticked me off too. I don't like drama for drama's sake. Brilly review!

Unknown said...

i KEPT LOOKING FOR THE BOOK THAT GIVE US SOME OF mAISIE's and James marriage and more of his flying and more of her expecting a baby, and how they each felt about these things. I couldn't believe they were just barely mentioned in the past tense, and made so incidental. I couldn't finish a dangerous place...I might go back, but I am very much agreement with your review.

Unknown said...

Bummer.....that would have pissed me off! I’m glad I read your review. I still don’t know if I’ll read it.