Monday, June 11, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

by Susan Elia MacNeal, Bantam, April 2012

...definitely worth a second look for those who like historical fiction

Maggie Hope is a whip smart Brit who is orphaned and raised in America by her aunt.   She returns to London to sell the house of a grandmother she did not know existed. Unable to sell the house she stays on in London as WWII breaks out.  Postponing her doctoral studies in math she tries unsuccessfully to get a meaningful job with British Intelligence that will use her skills.  Because she is a woman only typist positions are open and she ends up, with a little help from friends, at No. 10 Downing St. as part of Churchill’s secretarial pool.  

Maggie has a group of high society friends and we see some of the night life that took place during the “phony war” of 1940.  The Blitz has just started and Londoners have no idea what they are in for.  Maggie develops some good friends and a love interest.  But things are not as they seem.  There is an assassination plot a foot and a conspiracy to blow up a famous landmark.  Maggie is at the center of it all and in the end her math skills play a key role in foiling these plots.  She also discovers some of the strange circumstances around her parents’ death in a car crash.
This book is the first in a new series.  I liked the period aspects of this story.  The London setting is well described and the integration of real life people into the story is fun if a little unrealistic.  The mystery is threaded throughout the story and has the requisite red herrings and suspense. The mystery plot has suspense thriller aspects to it dealing with an attempt on Churchill’s life and a plot to blow up St. Paul’s and while that type of a plot is fun it has aspects that strain credibility.
 I have seen some comparisons of this series to the Maisie Dobbs series; I’ll withhold my opinion on that until I read another book in the series.  In the Dobbs series you have a realistic picture of the losses and tragedies of WWI, the Hope series so far seems a little light on this front but the worst of times are still ahead.  Definitely worth a second look for those who like historical fiction.
I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

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