Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, 2012
Crime Fictionl 384 pgs


If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you know about my interest in World War II fiction. For some reason though, I mostly shy away from mysteries set during that time period (even though I love crime fiction). I did read David Downing’s Zoo Station and liked it. Then there was Tokyo Zero by David Peace, which was . . . interesting.

I had read good things about Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series and decided to give it a try. Suffice it to say, I am hooked.

Maggie Hope was raised in the United States by her aunt, after her parents were killed in a car crash. When her grandmother died, Maggie traveled to London to see about the sale of her grandmother's Victorian house, putting her graduate degree on hold. Only, Maggie ended up liking London enough to settle in and stay.

In Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Winston Churchill has just been elected as Prime Minister and war is threatening to come to England. Maggie wants nothing more than to help the British fight the Nazis. Her skills in logistics and math cannot compete with the fact that she is a woman, however, in a time where gender matters more than intellect.  Reluctantly, Maggie accepts a position in Churchill’s secretary pool replacing a woman who had been murdered on her way home from work. Soon, Maggie is working directly under Churchill.

I expected a straightforward mystery novel, but what I got was a complex story involving murder, extremists, espionage, and family secrets. There was rarely a dull moment. In fact, about half way through the book everything starts coming together at such a rapid pace, I didn’t want to put the book down. It was like that right up until the end.

I especially liked the setting of the novel and how the author brought it to life. She captured the social climate of the time so well, and slipped in historical details which made the story all the more relevant and interesting. Early on, there was a lot of mixed feelings about the war, especially with the threat of war coming to England directly. Once the first bomb dropped, life completely changed for everyone in the country.  Even despite the rationing, air raids, blackouts and constant fear, the British carried on as best they could. The theater stayed open to give everyone a break from the constant tension.

I adored Maggie. Her tenacity and compassion drew me to her. I loved her spunk and how she stood up for what she believed, including gender equality. And I enjoyed getting to know her roommates and friends, each of whom was well drawn character with his or her own backstories. I look forward to getting to know them better in future books.

If I had a complaint, it would be that the romantic thread in the book was so thin. It makes complete sense, given the time period and culture that there would be such hesitation in acknowledging feelings of interest, but I kept wanting a little more. I think it was just my mood, really.

Anyhow, I bumped this one up on my “To Read” list since I will soon be reading reviewing the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy. I am eager to read it and spend more time with Maggie Hope.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Susan Elia MacNeal and her books on the author's website.

Source: I purchased an e-copy of this book for my own personal pleasure.

© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

14 comments:

  1. This sounds really good - I love historical mystery series. I have one more in the Bess Crawford series until I'm caught up - maybe this series can fill the time while I'm waiting for more. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie - I need to go back and read the earlier Bess Crawford books! I am reading the second book in MacNeal's series now. :-)

      Delete
  2. I don't read a lot of historical fiction but do love that time period. I like that this one is somewhat complex and has a mystery element.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - The book has a cozy feel to it too, so it's not so heavy. I think you might like it!

      Delete
  3. I've been hearing good things about this book. I didn't realize it was going to be a series! I love historical fiction, especially during this time period. This is going on my mental tbr pile :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jennifer - I don't know why I don't search out more mysteries set during the WWII time period. I really enjoyed this book.

      Delete
  4. This sounds great. Thanks for introducing me to this book and this author!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa - It was a fun read. Not too serious but complex and interesting.

      Delete
  5. Glad to see you enjoyed it. I'll be reading the first two for a blog tour coming up soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna - I can't wait to read your thoughts on the books. I'm reading the second book in the series now.

      Delete
  6. I'm a big fan of novels set during WWII and will have to add this to my list. I think I read a ho-hum review for this book a few months ago, but yours has convinced me to give it a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Les - I can see why this one might not appeal to everyone. I thought it was a fun read--although not without its faults.

      Delete
  7. I've been seeing some good reviews for this book lately! I'm intrigued...so I'm adding this one to my TBR list for sure :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Samantha - I've noticed it's been popping up more and more too. It's such a fun series.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.