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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery Paperback – April 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Advance praise for Mr. Churchill's Secretary

“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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Product Details

  • Series: Maggie Hope (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Later Printing edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553593617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553593617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (753 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Larkin on February 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Maggie Hope, born in Britain but raised in the US by an aunt after the death of her parents, is astonished to learn that she is the heir of a grandmother she never knew. According to the terms of the will, she is required to go to Britain and settle the modest estate personally. So in the summer of 1939 she puts her plans for graduate school on hold and travels to London to sell her grandmother's house, despite her aunt's misgivings.

The rackety old Victorian proves difficult to sell and expensive to maintain, so when a couple of her friends quit their jobs and lose the associated housing with the American Embassy after Britain enters the war, she offers to take them in. As London fills up with workers for the war effort, a few more friends take refuge with Maggie, who has determined to stay and support her country of birth. To make ends meet, she takes a job in the Prime Minister's office as a typist, although she thinks it a waste of her degree in mathematics and her language skills.

Visiting the cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of her parents, killed in a traffic accident when she was very young, she is perplexed to find only her mother's grave. She queries her aunt, who confesses that her father had survived the accident, but went mad as a result, and has been permanently institutionalized. Maggie is determined to locate him.

Through a number of characters the story offers a fair representation of the widely differing opinions of Britons about the war. The entwined threads of the missing father and the home-grown terrorism rachet up the suspense to a satisfying and hair-raising conclusion. But the real charm for me is watching the characters cope with rationing, bombing raids, clothing coupons, and all the other vicissitudes - from inconvenience to mortal danger - of wartime London.
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Format: Paperback
This is not historical fiction but rather a mystery novel set in London 1940, at the end of the "false war" and the begining of the Blitz. The heroine, Maggie Hope, a London born American with a degree in maths, who is caught up in London when WWII starts in ernest. She's living in a seedy victorian house with several other girls who are trying to cope with rationing and air-raids, when she begins working at No 10 Downing Street as one of Churchills secretaries.
She finds herself involved in code breaking, discovering plots and trying to track down her father whom she discovers didn't die in the car crash that killed her mother.
It's an easy read, fast paced with a multi-stranded plot that includes MI5, the IRA, spies and Bletchley Park (the famous decoding center). It was spoiled for me in a few spots (I am a Brit and it was clear the author is not)with the odd phrase that a Brit wouldn't use (and definitely not in the England of 1940) and there were more than a few too many coincidences in the plot that did stretch belief.
Lots of intrigue, some good research into Sadlers Wells and the conversations amongst the characters about differing political views. On the whole it was a pleasant, quick read but not something to stretch the grey cells too much.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I quite enjoyed this book, with its engaging main character, Maggie Hope, a British-born American who, while closing her deceased grandmother's house, is caught in London by the outbreak of World War II. With time, I think that the Maggie mysteries could develop into a very good series, indeed. The author's handling of the various strands of the plot is clever, although she sometimes tipped her hand in planting false clues that seemed a bit obvious, inviting readerly speculation prematurely. Some episodes, however, called for a severe suspension of disbelief, as when it doesn't seem to occur to Maggie, the bright young mathematician, that the simple morse she is decoding, which initially makes no sense, might actually be in the language of the main enemy that the world is fighting, Nazi Germany--especially when she later proves to be fluent in German.

The 'meticulous research'--advertised in Bantam's blurbs--needs to be toned down and incorporated seamlessly into the narrative so that one barely notices it, because the history-mystery genre represents a minefield, in which one false step will cause the story to explode in the reader's face, which is what I felt happened about half-way through the book, when the narrative began to lose its credibility.

Such 'explosions' occur when the author trips over anachronisms that betray that she is not really at home in the British world, at least historically. One such has been noted by another reviewer, who observed that women (i.e., 'Aunt Edith') were not awarded Cambridge degrees until 1947.
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Format: Paperback
I wanted to like this book so badly, I really did. It had everything I was interested in- it was a murder mystery, a historical novel, a female protagonist who actually does something, et cetera. But it just didn't deliver.

To start, this is not a well-written book. I've read books with lackluster writing in the past, but this takes the cake. The sentences plod, the scenery drags, and it's filled with characters who are more talking heads than real people. Constant conversations about how "there's a war on, you know!" just kill it for me. It's as if the author is so invested in her setting that she neglects things like characterization and showing detail. She's obviously done a lot of research, and tells us - but I never feel like I'm really there. I feel like someone is just telling me that she did a lot of research, and as a result, I can't get lost in the book.

Second, the plot is incredibly clumsy. There's too much in it - again, showing us how much research she's done - and the foreshadowing is weak at best. Apparently, Maggie's father is a big deal, unbeknownst to her, and characters hint at it in quaint exchanges like this: "But then there's Maggie's father..." "She doesn't know about him!" "Yet!" And cue the dramatic music. There's no delicate suspense. Everything is thrown at the reader - there's never a chance to guess which characters are good and which ones aren't, or a chance to really look at a character's flaws, because everything in this novel is black or white. But a hero who has flaws and a villain who can be genuinely good makes for a much more interesting read; but for all of Maggie's "flaws," we're supposed to wink at each other and say that Maggie's still the white knight of the story.
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