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by Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2015
320 pages
ISBN: 0062220551

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this eleventh novel in Winspear's highly successful series featuring the psychologist and sleuth, Maisie Dodds, we find her in the port city of Gibraltar in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This is not what fans might have expected would follow from the previous book which left Maisie on the brink of a new life in Canada with Viscount James Compton. The ensuing four years are dealt with rather summarily at the beginning of this book, which might disappoint many of her fans. Suffice to say, we find Maisie recovering from tragic events and on the way home from India where she had hoped to find the kind of peace she had found there in the past with her mentor and patron Maurice Blanche. For new readers of this series, he was the one who financed Maisie's education as a psychologist and who trained her to become a private investigator.

Maisie's family has pleaded for her to come home, especially as her father is ailing, but on board the ship headed for England she decides she is not quite ready to face them so she disembarks at Gibraltar in spite of the captain's warning that it is unsafe. Leaving the luxury hotel befitting her station in life as Lady Compton, she seeks the anonymity of a humble B&B. Maisie is still scarred by her losses, suffering from depression and fighting the solace provided by the morphine she has been prescribed.

It doesn't take long for Maisie to become involved in a murder investigation. On one of her walks about the town, she stumbles across the body of Sebastien Babayoff, a well-known local photographer and a member of Gibraltar's Sephardic community. Unsatisfied with the police inquiry, Maisie becomes entangled in the case. She becomes aware that she isbeing followed and she is also contacted by an agent from the British Secret Service she had known before. Although warned off the case, she persists, making friends with the victim's sister and other members of the Jewish community. With her usual thorough work, she is drawn into the political intrigue on "the Rock" when she discovers a link between the murder victim and the conflict in Spain.

From her first forays into the city, the well informed and well-connected owner of a café took Maisie under his wing and his place becomes the base of her operations in Gibraltar. Through Salazar, she meets a Spanish professor who promises to take Masie across the border into Spain to see the conflict for herself. What she finds there not only resolves the mystery around the death of Babayoff but Maisie also discovers a new direction for her life. With renewed purpose and revitalization, she will be prepared to continue her journey home.

I found that the most rewarding parts of this book were the historical and political details about Gibraltar and some of the complexities of the Spanish Civil War. We are also reminded that in warfare it is too often civilians who are the real victims.

As usual, Winspear's writing and ability to interweave the various threads of her inquiry are entertaining. Those who find that her handling of the missing years of Maisie's life did not do justice to the expectations she raised in her previous novel have a point, however. It is something of a mystery why she veered away from that direction and the opportunity to explore what could have been rich new material in the development of Maisie's character.

§ Ann Pearson is a photographer and retired college Humanities teacher who lives in Montreal

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, April 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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