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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery Paperback – April 3, 2012
An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Sweet Sorrow" by David Nicholls
"With fully fleshed-out characters, terrific dialogue, bountiful humor, and genuinely affecting scenes, this is really the full package of a rewarding, romantic read."—Booklist Learn more
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“This wonderful debut is intelligent, richly detailed, and filled with suspense.”—Stefanie Pintoff
“A terrific read . . . Chock full of fascinating period details and real people including Winston Churchill, MacNeal’s fast-paced thriller gives a glimpse of the struggles, tensions, and dangers of life on the home front during World War II.”—Rhys Bowen, author of Royal Blood and winner of the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards
“Think early Ken Follett, amp it up with a whipsmart young American not averse to red lipstick and vintage cocktails, season it with espionage during the London Blitz, and you’ve got a heart-pounding, atmospheric debut. I loved it.”—Cara Black, author of Murder in Passy
“England in 1940 is the perfect backdrop for a courageous young woman who outwits the enemy. A vivid tapestry of wartime London.”—Carolyn Hart, author of Escape from Paris
“An engrossing page-turner, with a delightful and spirited new heroine in the aptly named Maggie Hope.”—C. C. Benison, author of Twelve Drummers Drumming
About the Author
Susan Elia MacNeal is the Barry Award–winning and Edgar, Dilys, and Macavity Award–nominated author of the Maggie Hope mysteries, including Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, and The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and child.
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In fact, I could very nearly give this book a 5. But not quite, and for two reasons. First, when someone comes in raving about getting the role of "Rebecca" in a stage production of Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca," your jaw just hast to drop a little. "Rebecca" is one of my top five favorite books; I've seen the movie and two television adaptations of it. And one of the two things that made the book and all adaptations unique is, "Rebecca" just ain't in it, and if the stage play was written by du Maurier herself (and it was) you'd better show me a copy of it before I'll believe the author went that far from her own book. Unless the author can produce a copy of du Maurier's stage play, I' far more likely to believe she figured nobody had ever read "Rebecca"--certainly Miss Macneal didn't--and so she didn't bother to check her facts. This leads me to question her credibility on other things, and in a historical novel, you can't afford to lose credibility.
The second thing, and one more people probably noticed and were annoyed by, is that the book doesn't end, or that is, it's full of fake endings. Bad guy's dead, whew, story's over. But no! The other bad guy got away, so it's not really over. And this just keeps going, so I lost count of how many times it ended before it really ended. (And the ending isn't quite satisfying, because it leads into the next book, which I didn't buy.)
Still, as I said, it's a lot of fun.
War against Germany has just been declared by England so this is a very turbulent time to be there. Maggie is a mathematician with a degree from Wellesley and is a PHD candidate at MIT. She lands a position as a secretary to Winston Churchill which puts her into the thick of historical intrigue. She is over qualified for the position but the position where her skills and intelligence is needed is given to men with less qualifications.
The nightly bombings stand out to me. The book describes black out curtains and no lights. When the sirens went off many people went underground or into shelters they made. There was much destruction but the English spirit was high. There also was talk of invasion of troops and many dogs were put down or sent to the country due to barking that could alert the German troops
Maggie gets into the middle of all the plotting and intrigue. Due to her superior intelligence, she spots a code that everyone took as a advertisement. She is very brave. There were some surprises in the book. I am looking forward to continuing on with the series.
When she finds a job, it is at 10 Downing Street where she becomes one of the secretaries who takes dictation for Churchill. And who discovers a secret message encoded in a newspaper advert, as well as clues that suggest her father is still alive.
This novel was recommended in a discussion of British mysteries, and it lives up to its recommendation. The description of World War Two London is filled with details and color, the plot is exciting (which is why I'm writing this review at 11:30), and the characters are richly developed. Pick up this fine book and enjoy!
Top international reviews
Fortunately, I didn’t read too many reviews of this novel first, so my enjoyment wasn’t tainted by watching out for potholes – historical or linguistic errors. Yes, I spotted some mistakes, but the plot swept me past them. So, I’m not going to nit-pick – and I know first-hand about American editors making changes for their larger market. (I fear my own writing lapses into Americanisms that might cause problems.)
Anyway, I suspended my disbelief and judgemental self to read about a clever young woman attempting to push past the restrictions imposed on women. The heroine, Maggie Hope has the qualifications to be more than just a typist for Winston Churchill, but that is how she starts out at 10, Downing Street. From there, she becomes involved in ‘a web of spies, murder, and intrigue’ earning promotion of sorts.
The plot unfolds through a series of events told from multiple POVs – almost too many by the end, though never a read-block - and the threads are brought together in a series of climactic episodes. Eventually, these lead into the over-long set-up for what has become not just a sequel but a series of books.
Were there plot holes? No, a few coincidences but life is full of them, and these felt explained, especially as some characters were being minimal with what they told Maggie – they have their reasons like there is a war on and "Careless talk costs lives”.
As a Brit ex-pat living in the US, I enjoyed reading about London during the war and recognised places from having lived there (and researched places destroyed in the Blitz). The fashion, music, art and celebrity references made me smile, especially as Maggie was part of a set on the fringes of high-society. Hobnobbing and name-dropping was rife throughout the world I grew up in. There were settings outside London that I recognised, although a few decades after these events – but they came alive for me.
The characters, especially Maggie, felt realistic, even though emotions felt restrained in some cases. For instance, when death becomes more personal, there are demonstrations of grief – but not wailing. But even by the time the Blitz arrives, there is a sense of numbness for some – a numbness that shatters, perhaps not as overtly as we might portray it today. Stiff upper lip? And some of the secondary roles felt shallow in passing.
When the Luftwaffe arrived over London, the atmosphere changed, and the plot moved faster for me. Life must continue, including dancing, but the danger was more visible – and the smell pungent. So, characters are asking, ‘Who to trust?’ They become more conscious of Nazi sympathisers and more in their midst. Britain has older enemies and we slowly learn why in dialogue, memories and songs.
I always felt that Susan Elia MacNeal had done her research – for instance, when Frederick Ashton appeared- and despite the few potholes that I read around. Her ‘historical notes’ make it clear that this research was extensive, and she used numerous reputable sources, including her inspiration for Maggie and her fictional exploits in the real-life Churchill secretaries, Marian Holmes and Elizabeth Layton Nel.
This was a fast read, and I recommend this novel. Book 2 will have to wait as I have other historical novels to tackle first – and I need to forget those distracting reviews that I want to disagree with.
3.7 stars upgraded to 4.
Story – four stars
Setting/World-building – four stars
Authenticity – four stars
Characters – three stars
Structure – three stars
Readability – four stars
Editing – four stars
This book was OK, not fantastic to read, but enjoyable since I love historical mystery books. Maggie Hope is a good character and there were a lot of likable characters around her. I can't say that I really liked her relationship with John. For some reason, their relationship didn't click for me. The plot in this book was interesting, there is a plot to kill Winston Churchill and it doesn't take much brain work to figure at that one person around Maggie isn't who she is saying she is the question is who? There wasn't really any real twist to the story, no real aha moments. Everything unfurled nicely along the way and that was the problem, I wanted the story to be a bit more problematic, more nerve chilling, but alas, it was not to be. Still I will continue with the series. I liked the book enough to feel that I want to read more and I especially liked Winston Churchill in this book.
This novel is set in London 1940 at the beginning of London Blitz. Maggie Hope is a UK born American immigrant with a degree in maths, who works as Winston Churchill's secretary. She lived in old Victorian house she inherited with several other girls.
Maggie Hope gets involved in code breaking and espionage while trying to track down her father.
This is a very good and easy read, fast paced and informative (I never knew about code breaking centres or types of codes used so it was interesting to read this). However, it is not a historical novel so read it if you like a good World War mystery. Also some of the phrases are really not British but the author seemed to think they are.
In summary, this was an interesting and quick read but I wish it had more of a historical element to it and considering it was about Churchill's secretary, more on Churchill himself during the war would have been nice.
British, but having been raised by an aunt in America, Maggie has returned to England to sell her grandmother's house. When it doesn't sell, she decides to stay and contribute to the war effort. She shares her large Victorian house with five other young women and begins her job at No. 10 Downing St. in a bit of a snit because, being an exceptionally clever mathematician, she had none-the-less been turned down for a job working in cryptography because of her gender. However, there are hints that something more is going of which Maggie is unaware.
While Maggie doesn't go out of her way to try to solve Diana's murder, she finds herself the target of spies, one of whom is a roommate living a double life. The danger for her intensifies when she tries to find out why her father isn't buried beside her mother. This causes friction between her and her aunt back in Boston because Maggie hadn't been aware that her grandmother had been living in London while she was growing up nor had she been honest about her parents' deaths. In wartime London, Maggie and her roommates purchase and install a bomb shelter, the IRA is responsible for letter bombings, anti-Semitism is growing, and Maggie and her friends in cryptography — David and John — share information and give us glimpses into both the underground war room and the character of Prime Minister Churchill (based on research from interviews with and books by real secretaries who worked with Churchill at that time).
This is a well-written historical fiction novel with lots of tension as bombs drop and terrorists close in as well as some laughs, interesting characters and relationships, and some of the deprivation as well as the pleasures of wartime London. It is fast-paced and compelling and the first of a series. I'm looking forward to reading all the novels in this series.