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Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Dangerous Place: Jacqueline Winspear's Terrible Dilemma

I've just had the experience of reading through reviews of A Dangerous Place (Maisie Dobbs #11) on Goodreads after having read it myself.  I was looking forward to this book, though I admit I was at first disappointed when I discovered that it took place on Gibraltar rather than in India which is where Maisie had been headed after the end of the last Maisie Dobb's novel, Leaving Everything Most Loved.  A number of the reviews on Goodreads went far beyond disappointment.  This review is in part a response to them and a defense of Jacqueline Winspear's choices.  I am not associated with either Winspear or the publisher of this book, and I obtained my copy from a public library. 


It bothered me to see tirades  from readers about how they felt cheated of a HEA by this book as if this were a romance.  Reviewers even voiced the expectation that Maisie Dobbs could marry and continue her work as a private investigator.  These readers praise author Jacqueline Winspear's feel for the historical period,  yet they still had this extremely unrealistic expectation that would be totally false to Maisie's  context.

 My own response to the first few pages of this book was relief.  I was so glad that Winspear had found a way to continue the series.   I know that this sounds unfeeling when Maisie had gone through such tragic events, but I selfishly didn't want to be deprived of the future adventures of Maisie Dobbs. 

In Maisie's era, only lower class  Englishwomen worked outside the home after they married.  The main occupations of middle class and upper class women were running the household and having babies.  Aside from those, they could draw,paint, play a musical instrument, learn flower arranging or take dancing lessons.  They could also socialize,go to the theatre,visit museums and do limited charity work that didn't expose them too much to the realities of lower class life. These were a lady's socially approved activities.  For Maisie to continue investigating crimes would create a scandal.

 I'm sure that Maisie was aware that she couldn't continue with her work after she married.  This is almost certainly why she hesitated so long about marriage.   Yet she very much wanted to marry and have children.  It was a dilemma for any woman who had a career before marriage then, and it's a dilemma for any author who chooses to write about a woman's life before the second wave of feminism in the 1970's.

It's true that there are other historical mystery series that take place in the U.S. in which married women such as Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy continue their investigative careers.   I ought to point out that since her marriage, Molly has had to deceive her husband, or invent excuses for her scandalous behavior.  Maisie's situation is also quite different from Molly's due to a difference in social class which has always been a much more important issue in England than it's ever been in American society.

As for the readers who wanted a Canada book, I have to repeat that this isn't a romance series.  It's a mystery/thriller series.  Given the circumstances, nothing could have happened in Maisie's life while she was in Canada that would have been of any interest to readers of mysteries and thrillers. 

I can understand but not sympathize with the readers who just wanted some more space devoted to Maisie's brief period in Canada in the form of flashbacks.  In  this case, Maisie has come to Gibraltar in order to avoid her memories.  People respond to grief in different ways.  Some people immerse themselves in memories because they consider them a comfort.  Others find memories too painful.  Because Maisie couldn't bear to remember her more recent past, she wouldn't have flashbacks to Canada in this book.  I've seen the argument that Maisie has never reacted to loss that way, but it seems to me that she behaves differently because of the impact of these particular losses.  I have also felt differently about losses that were particularly important to me.   I consider the portrayal of Maisie in A Dangerous Place psychologically authentic. 

Now let's get on to discussion of what was in the book rather than what wasn't there.  I hadn't fully realized what Gibraltar would have been like during this period.  I hadn't thought about the connection of Gibraltar to Spain.  I have read books and seen movies that took place in Spain during this period.  So I do have some familiarity with the Spanish Civil War.  I have seen the tapestry copy of Picasso's Guernica painting that was displayed at the United Nations building in New York until 2009.  None of this prepared me for the situation that Maisie encountered on Gibraltar.

 I hadn't understood the implications of German warplanes flying over Gibraltar.  Once I did learn why that was significant, I was as appalled as Maisie had been in the novel, and I completely empathized with the actions that Maisie felt compelled to undertake at the end of this book.  It demonstrated that Maisie is a "loose cannon" from the perspective of the British authorities.  This means that she is a woman who thinks for herself and acts on her beliefs.  I love that aspect of Maisie's character and very much liked the way this novel ended.



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