Double Review: Mr Churchill’s Secretary and ARC review Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia Macneal
Author: Susan Elia Macneal
Title: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
Release: April 2012
Series: Maggie Hope Mysteries #1
Source: Personal Library
Purchase: | Book Depository
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.
There weren’t many books on my “bring back from BEA” list but Princess Elizabeth’s Spy was one of them. The premise sounded interesting, I love historical mysteries, and while I usually like my history to be pre-World War II, this book sounded like it would make a great addition to the sleuths section on my bookshelves.
So I immediately ordered the first book in the series, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary and promised that I would pace myself, read the books separately, take my time… yeah, that never happened.
The minute I finished Mr. Churchill’s Secretary I rushed through Princess Elizabeth’s Spy as if I was in some sort of reading-race. Now I have no more Maggie Hope to read and I have nothing to feed my latest addiction.
Yes, the Maggie Hope Mysteries are now on my Must Read shelf.
In Mr. Churchill’s Secretary we meet Margaret (Maggie) Hope – an American who’s really British – born in England, raised in the US by her aunt, a college professor after her parents died in a car crash, she comes back to England in order to sell the house her grandmother left her but war breaks out and Maggie decides to stay instead, hoping to help with the war effort.
When her friend David calls with an opportunity to be a typist in Winston Churchill’s office (replacing a girl who was mugged and murdered) she is less than thrilled – she had previously applied for the position of private secretary, with her qualifications as mathematician and codebreaker to help her along the way but believes she was denied simply because she is a woman. Still, it’s 1940 and there’s a war on, so Maggie eventually agrees.
As a typist in the prime minister’s office Maggie finds herself at the epicenter of events and while that is a major and extremely interesting side of the story, the real story here is the mystery Maggie herself uncovers – that of a possible spy plot that could even reach Downing Street.
And as Maggie begins to connect the dots and tries to get someone to take notice, she may in fact also be getting closer to uncovering some of her own family secrets…
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was a truly enjoyable debut for author Susan Ella Macneal and as I mentioned, it had me chomping at the bit to get to the second book in the series – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy. Macneal combines romance, suspense, mystery and shows marvelous attention to historical detail in a way that really brings the turbulent period to life.
This brings us to Princess Elizabeth’s Spy…
I usually don’t combine a review for two books but since I really did just finish one and immediately (ok, one bathroom break!) pick up the next installment I feel I can legitimately do so in this case. For those looking to avoid spoilers – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy did not have any of the failings usually found in a second book in a series. The plot was strong and tightly written, and I really did love where Macneal took the story, and cannot wait to see where Maggie goes next. Now, on to a detailed review!
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR FIRST BOOK FROM THIS POINT FORWARD:
Author: Susan Elia Macneal
Title: Princess Elizabeth’s Spy
Release: October 16 2012
Series: Maggie Hope Mysteries #2
Source: BEA ARC
Purchase: | Book Depository
As World War II sweeps the continent and England steels itself against German attack, Maggie Hope, former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, completes her training to become a spy for MI-5. Spirited, strong-willed, and possessing one of the sharpest minds in government for mathematics and code-breaking, she fully expects to be sent abroad to gather intelligence for the British front. Instead, to her great disappointment, she is dispatched to go undercover at Windsor Castle, where she will tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math. Yet castle life quickly proves more dangerous—and deadly—than Maggie ever expected. The upstairs-downstairs world at Windsor is thrown into disarray by a shocking murder, which draws Maggie into a vast conspiracy that places the entire royal family in peril. And as she races to save England from a most disturbing fate, Maggie realizes that a quick wit is her best defense, and that the smallest clues can unravel the biggest secrets, even within her own family.
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy picks up after the events of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Maggie is being trained for a role in MI5 as the war rages on around her. Sadly, she never considered that for this job, brains and common sense would simply not be enough.
After failing her physical training it is decided that Maggie cannot be sent abroad to gather intelligence. Instead she is given a special assignment – be a tutor to Princess Elizabeth at Windsor… not exactly spy central. Her real job? “Be a sponge” – absorb any and all information and watch out for the princess and the royal family. MI5 believe there may be a plot to replace the royal family with abdicated King and Now Duke of Windsor – a known Nazi sympathizer.
Yet what seems like a simple assignment soon turns out to be anything but… murder and mayhem seem to follow Maggie wherever she goes, as does the possibility of romance.
In Princess Elizabeth’s Spy Macneal really pushes the Maggie Hope series forward – both from a plot and character perspective. Maggie is really coming into her own and I got the sense that in this book, she felt more confident about who she was. Perhaps thanks to the revelations in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.
It is quite a bumpy ride for Maggie this time around; as the story begins we learn that tragedy has struck in Maggie’s small circle of friends (that’s all I’m saying) and this too affects Maggie’s behavior throughout the book. Then Maggie discovers there is more than meets the eye to the revelations concerning her own family history, and she won’t let the matter rest until she knows the complete truth – no matter what might be at stake.
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy was a beautifully crafted mystery with just the right amount of suspense and yes, a bit of craziness thrown in. Did I have my suspicions about who the spy was? Yes, but though it might be obvious, the reasons and the subplots still mean this is a book with enough suspense for any reader.
Thankfully Princess elizabeth’s Spy did not suffer from Second Book Syndrome and the ending… well, if you’re anything like me you’ll wish you had access to Macneal’s draft of His Majesty’s Hope. I read this book in one sitting and honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do now… I really need to learn how to read slowly or pace myself or something. ;)