Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
by Susan Elia MacNeal
Series: Maggie Hope Mystery #1
Genre: Historical Mystery (WWII England)
Published by Bantam, 2012
Synopsis: London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.
In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.
As most of the dogs in London had been sent to the country or chloroformed–the barking of the dogs was considered too great a risk in case of invasion–even the usual walkers weren’t around. The London Zoo’s snakes and reptiles had also been killed, while the elephants and lions had been moved to a safer location, the park felt so open, so exposed.
“We will go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.”
“…We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”
…The majesty and grandeur of the English language, in the hands and on the lips of Winston Churchill, had power that even the threat of bombs couldn’t subdue.
- Great description of the bombing of London.
- More of a thriller and spy novel than a traditional mystery.
- I really like the history woven into this story. For example, I didn’t realize Ireland was neutral and that some of the IRA met with Nazi’s during WWII.
- I like Maggie a lot and like seeing historical characters like Winston Churchill from her perspective.
- I also like the portions of Churchill’s speeches included in this book. So interesting and inspiring to read.
- Maggie is also interesting since she has a degree from Wellesley College in the United Stated and had planned to get a doctorate in mathematics from MIT. The she went to England to settle an aunt’s estate and stayed in London even after WWII started.
- The description of Maggie taking dictation and typing the reports directly is so interesting. That’s hard to do. I’ve worked as a secretary before and typed from someone dictating to me. I’m not a fast enough typist to type directly without having the person stop so I can catch up!
- At the end of the book Ms. MacNeal adds a Historical Note which I really enjoyed. She visited the Cabinet War Rooms in London and that inspired this book. The exhibit has audio accompaniments to the displays and one of these is the remembrances of one of Churchill’s secretaries. She also read accounts of some of the other secretaries. I really enjoy authors who tell us some of the history behind their historical fiction.
- The book is told from several POV’s. One is from an IRA terrorist who is setting bombs in London. He’s scary, but the author also humanizes him which is also scary.
- I have never been in a city or country which is being bombed. The day-to-day horrors people live through shown in this book–people digging bomb shelters in their back yards, the stress of living under constant fear, people dying before getting to a bomb shelter, people not agreeing with their country’s war declaration–not believing Hitler would invade Great Britain or if he did that he would hurt people.
- Toward the end of the book I thought Maggie does some things when seem foolhardy.
- A number of coincidences occur in the book. They’re explained well, but still seem unlikely.
And a few thoughts . . .
- I definitely want to read more books in this series. I read books about WWII when I was a teenager and my dad was in the South Pacific during the War so most of the books I read took place there. I haven’t read many about England during WWII though I’ve watched documentaries and Foyle’s War.
Have you read this book? How did you like it?