Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mr. Churchill's Secretary (A Maggie Hope Mystery) by Susan Elia MacNeal

I've stumbled upon a new mystery series and I adore it! The Maggie Hope Mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal. There are currently eight books in the series with book eight, The Prisoner in the Castle to be release August 8, 2018. I've got a lot of reading to do if I want to be a part of this debut.

Book Summary: Mr. Churchill's Secretary begins the series of Maggie Hope when she is hired to be a secretary to the Prime Minister after he is sworn-in in 1940. The infamous Blitz seems to be drawing closer each day and Maggie wants to do her part for the war effort. 

However - she is no simple "typist" as she regularly points out throughout the novel, despite this being the only way to serve her country because she is a woman. Maggie is a mathematics major with an invitation to M.I.T. in the Fall, but alas - that is not meant to be. When her grandmother that she never knew passes away, she is left a Victorian house in London. Crossing the pond to sell the house but instead finding a forever home, her journey as a British citizen begins (she is a British citizen - she was born there and only moved to the states after tragically losing her parents at a very young age). With Hitler's advance on surrounding countries, she's in the thick of the plot as war looms over London. Being within the "circle" of security clearances, Maggie seeks to find her place among her colleagues, and in the process puts her deft mind to work in ways that make changes to benefit all. Not only do her efforts help "save the proverbial day" as she uncovers secrets in the war effort, but she also uncovers secrets in her own life changing all that Maggie understood. 

Blending speeches from Churchill's actual wording with fiction narrative to bring the plot to life, MacNeal creates an entire new world of understanding at N0. 10 Downing Street as London enters WWII. And I really enjoyed meeting the cat - Nelson.

My Review: This novel is excellent. Not only is it expertly written and researched, it makes historical details live for the people, and not the textbooks. MacNeal captures the heart of Londerners attempting to survive the dangerous influx of Hitler's march and the IRA out of Ireland - a dual threat. The fear embedded in those that attempted to decipher code from No. 10 Downing Street all the way to Bletchley Park rises from the pages and connects with the reader.

The protagonist, Maggie Hope, is wonderfully written. She's smart and aggressive in her drive to breach the standards of female roles, but not in a trite or cliche way that detracts from the overall plot arc. Her friends - Chuck, Sarah, Paige, and the twins - enhance the dynamics of her character and the way they develop a mini-family as each woman pursues her own path is endearing. There is just enough romance to be believable, and just enough drama with both the war and Maggie's own quest to uncover what she doesn't know about her family, to keep the reader turning the page. Even when it's all "figured out," MacNeal still has a few gems up her sleeve.

I look forward to reading the rest of this series - pronto! An applauded 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷from me! Kudos!!! 

Witty and Wonderful Writing (trying to add this feature to my reviews):

I learned in this novel about the Irish flag: "Green for the Gaels, orange for the Protestants—and white for the peace between them."

I found a kindred spirit in her appreciation of graveyards as Maggie visits Highgate: "She walked through rows and rows of monuments and carved angels with unfurled wings—some as cherubs looking heavenward, some in the form of pretty young girls with eyes cast demurely down, and some as goddesses draped languorously across mausoleums. Some headstones were smooth white marble with fresh flowers in vases, others dark and crumbling, covered in green moss and olive lichen."

I appreciated the personification of fear: "Fear had become a real person standing too close and pressing against her, hard and crude, daring her to cry out in panic."

The understanding of what it means to carry on in war: "But they could go on. They had to. They all went to work, ate their meals, spoke to one another in the shops, went on as though they were people in one of those classic British plays—always polite, terribly formal, occasionally stiff. It was almost comical sometimes. There was really nothing else to do."

The poetry of death (H.S. Holland as quoted by Maggie Hope): “Death is nothing at all, I have only slipped into the next room I am I and you are you Whatever we were to each other, That we are still. Call me by my old familiar name, Speak to me in the easy way you always used Put no difference into your tone, Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow Laugh as we always laughed At the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, Let it be spoken without effort, Without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was, There is absolute unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind Because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, Somewhere very near, Just around the corner. All is well.”

The gentle play at British humor: "Despite the pain, Maggie had to give a weak smile. “Ah, that trademark British understatement.” “Stiff upper lip, don’t you know. We don’t believe in drama.”

The wonderful Hamlet references: "She thought, “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! / My tables—meet it is I set it down / That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

And the humor of Winston Churchill: "Mrs. Churchill gave a small sigh of exasperation. “Winnie, do you always have to give people your books?" “Why else would I write them?” He gave her his most cherubic smile."

About the Author: 

Susan graduated from Nardin Academy in Buffalo New York, and also cum laude and with honors in English from Wellesley College. She cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her first job was as the assistant to novelist John Irving in Vermont. She then worked as an editorial assistant at Random House, assistant editor at Viking Penguin, and associate editor and staff writer at Dance Magazine in New York City. As a freelance writer, she wrote two non-fiction books and for the publications of New York City Ballet.

Susan is married and lives with her husband, Noel MacNeal, a television performer, writer, and director, and their son in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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1 comment:

  1. Ooh sounds like a really well done novel. I do love historical fiction set during this time period. I'd be curious to hear about the others in the series!