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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review - Mr. Churchill's Secretary

This week's review takes us to war torn England of 1940 for some intrigue and chasing shadows.  This is a debut novel of a new historical suspense/intrigue series.  There have been some mixed reviews for this book, so let's see how it fared.

FYI, Thursday, July 26, 2012 is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen® stores with proceeds of $1 or more from every Blizzard® Treat purchased at participating stores to be donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. 

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Copyright: April 2012 (Bantam) 384 pgs

Series: 1st in Maggie Hope Adventures

Sensuality: Mild references

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Intrigue,

Main Characters: Maggie Hope, American in London

Setting: 1940, London England

Obtained Through: LibraryThing

Maggie Hope somewhat reluctantly takes the job of new Prime Minister Winston Churchill's secretary. The last secretary was was murdered and it seems that Maggie is being watched in her new job as well.  England itself is facing Hitler preparing to pummel England with bomber planes as households build bomb shelters.  Additionally, the IRA is bombing sites in London and could be Nazi sympathizers, joining against England - the common enemy. 

Maggie's British parents were killed when she was still an infant and she was raised by an aunt in America.  Her aunt raised her in the academic world of colleges where she works. Maggie is forced to suspend her graduate studies in mathematics at MIT to travel to London and sell her inheritance from a grandmother she never knew she had.  Thus, Maggie is incredibly overqualified for the job of secretary with her Mathematics skills, plus she is fluent in a few languages.  All of which means she is smart and some secrets she will figure out, placing her in more danger.  Secrets - such as why her father isn't buried with her mother? 

Maggie Hope is a good main character, smart, loyal and caring.  She has several friends that are living in the inherited house, all helping each other through the challenging times.  There are so many characters who populate the story that a character guide up front would have been helpful.  Maggie's housemates are interesting and varied.  I didn't particularly care for the ditzy twins, but otherwise they were all engaging.  There is even the hint of a romantic interest with an acquaintance who also works for Churchill.  Churchill himself is very well portrayed.

Historical books, when done correctly really, bring the time period alive.  I was skeptical to read this book because of a review I read somewhere that said there were historical errors.  After reading the book I was surprised, because I didn't find anything of particular note.  I went back and found the criticism had to do with the color of Women's Naval Service uniforms and such details.  Unless you are familiar with such WWII details, I doubt you will notice the errors either.  I can say that a few times there was a term or phrase that was more modern that struck me.  But again, not so much that it detracted from the story for me.  Rather, the terror of a sudden air raid siren and the scramble to get into a bomb shelter and the tense listening to explosions while waiting for the all-clear siren were all brought vividly to life.  

The plot of IRA forces combining with Nazis to infiltrate Churchill's inner circle was well done and quite believable.  The circumstances around Maggie's father (not to give away too much here) are a tad of a stretch.  The pacing kept the tension and story going solidly for me throughout.  This was one of those books when you think you just made it through the climax and can resume breathing, only to find there is more and your blood continues racing.  Well done climax and solid wrap-up that sets up further adventures for Maggie.

This is a solid debut entry in the historical intrigue or historical amateur sleuth genre. 

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

I have this piece of a documentary about the London blitz to share.  It is so easy to forget what London went through while the Olympics are there.


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Mystica said...

I'd love to get my hands on this one!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I enjoyed this one and am very excited to read the sequel soon! I think I read the same review as you where the reviewer quibbled about the historical details-I didn't find anything too egregious.

A.F. Heart said...

Thanks for commenting. I really did enjoy this book Mystica. Bookworm, after reading the book I think that one reviewer was overly critical on minute details when the plot and suspense were well developed. Read your review and agree that Maggie needs developed more since she has such potential.

adlin said...

Nice review. I'm always a bit skeptical about WWII books and especially those that incorporate real people, but the review intrigued me. I've added it to my To Read list...

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