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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review - The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent

I wish all of you a healthy and prosperous new year. 

I have followed and reviewed each of the books in the Maggie Hope series:  #1 Mr. Churchill's Secretary (click here), #2 Princess Elizabeth's Spy (click here), #3 His Majesty's Hope (click here), and a wonderful interview with Ms. MacNeal (click here).  Today I review the newest addition to the series.  I received this book from my Secret Santa at, yeah!

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Copyright: July 2014 (Bantam) 320 pgs

Series: 4th in Maggie Hope Spy series

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Intrigue

Main Characters: Maggie Hope, a spy who started as Churchill's secretary

Setting: November 1941, London, Scotland, and Pearl Harbor

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

This book is in the wake of Maggie's return from her mission in Berlin where several surprises awaited her and she had to fight to get out alive.  We find her recuperating emotionally as a teacher at the spy training camp based in the Scottish coastal lands.

Maggie is encouraged to attend her dear friend Sarah's ballet performance in Glasgow where she witnesses the lead ballerina collapse, dead, in the middle of the show.  Quickly, Sarah is hospitalized with similar black blisters on her hand.  Maggie recognizes the black blisters from dead sheep she found in Scotland but has no clue what is causing it. Maggie partners with an MI-5  agent who is a friend of her ex-fiance, to determine what is causing the deaths (a second ballerina is afflicted too) and if it is of national concern. But it’s the approaching attack on Pearl Harbor that looms throughout the book.  The book weaves what we know of the approaching bombing with a time line of who potentially knew what information when leading up to the Japanese attack on Dec 7, 1941. This is meant to build suspense surrounding an event we know is coming in the story.

While the Pearl Harbor information is nicely interspersed throughout, it isn't "Maggie" focused.  This might be distracting to some.  This book deals with Maggie on a more personal level during her scenes and has fewer action events than prior books (some, but fewer.) 

Maggie Hope is struggling to gain her emotional equilibrium after surviving her assignment in Berlin.  She rallies to save BFF Sarah from whatever has struck her ill, which Maggie suspects is a targeted illness. Maggie's innocence is gone forever and the Maggie who emerges is better able to handle what the future will require of her as an agent.  Sarah Sanderson, extraordinary ballerina and good friend, is changed by the war like never before.  Clara Hess, Maggie's mother and Nazi spy, is due for execution and is desperately maneuvering to have time with her daughter.  John Sterling (the ex-fiance) and David Greene are back as aids to Churchill.  Winston and Clementine Churchill are great in this outing.  I appreciated the serious questions raised about how far is too far in a war for your nation's continued existence that Churchill faced and the toll that the war was extracting from him mentally.  Satoshi Nagoka is a minor character that made an impression.  His training of agents in martial arts is a little slice of history best not forgotten, even if his real name wasn't properly recorded for posterity.

Balmy Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu, frigid Scotland, and war-ravaged London are each rendered as vital elements to the story.  You feel the Hawaiian sun or the bone-chilling cold of the Scottish coast.  The plot is two-fold in reality, first is Maggie's uncovering what and who killed two ballerinas and has Sarah fighting for her life, and secondly Maggie's place in the global drama unfolding with Pearl Harbor.  Subplots are her emotional struggles and growth as an agent.  The confrontation of who was the immediate catalyst for the ballerina deaths was pretty straight forward, the investigation had more thrills.  The wrap-up showed how stunned and shocked Maggie is by the Pearl Harbor attack and sets her up to be at Churchill's side for the next book.

This book may get labeled as a transition book, or even filler, but I disagree.  This book shares Maggie's emotional and mental growth in the midst of an increasingly insecure world all while fighting the odds to uncover what has struck-down her remaining dear friend.  Maggie's struggle is not in a vacuum and the reader is drawn into the drama of the approaching Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

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

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