Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Maggie Hope #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Always interesting book with great characters and period details
Cons: The mystery is very uneven
The Bottom Line:
A trip back in time
Kept me turning pages even if
Myst'rey slow to start

Uneven at times but Always Enjoyable

It’s just impossible to keep up with all the new books coming out.  But I heard enough references to Mr. Churchill's Secretary that it eventually made my to be read list.  After all, I enjoy World War II history, so a novel set in London during that time would be very interesting.  And it was.

Maggie Hope has come to London to sell her grandmother’s house.  While technically a British citizen, she has spent her life in America being raised by an aunt.  When the house doesn’t sell, she decides to stay and even gets a job as one of the secretaries to new Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

But 1940 London is a dangerous place to live.  There are almost daily raids from the Germans as they bomb the cities.  But the danger is about to get closer to home as Maggie unknowingly becomes involved in some plots.  And her family’s past is about to come to the surface as well.  Will Maggie survive the shocks to come?

Now the book is classified as a mystery (in fact, it was just nominated for an Edgar for best first mystery), but that is only half right.  While there is a murder in the prologue and some mysterious plot threads weaving their way through the early chapters of the book, the first part reads more like a straight novel.  There are hints of romance and glimpses of life during the time period.  Frankly, while the book was moving slowly, I really enjoyed it.  Anyone with an interest in that time period will enjoy seeing what life was like then.

About half way through, the mystery really picks up, and that’s when the book becomes impossible to turn down.  The hints of something sinister before very real and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  The plots twists are all logical and the multiple viewpoints just make it that much more thrilling.

The cast of characters is excellent.  Maggie is a wonderful lead character and most of the time our window to the world.  I really came to care for her and I certainly felt her frustration at the unequal treatment she was often given because she was a woman.  Her friends are an entertaining bunch as well, and I found them just as real as she was.  Even the villains came across as real and relatable.

While a debut novel, the writing is strong.  I got lost in the story and the pages just flew by.

That’s not to say there weren’t a couple of things that threw me out of the book.  There’s a discussion at one point that is essentially about gay rights as a couple characters discuss how they are treated during the time period.  At another point, Maggie makes a reference to America’s shameful history of slavery.  This one really bothered me since England had slaves as well, the only difference being they stop the horrid practice without a war.  Anyway, both times this did throw me out of the book, but they are minor issues.

While not the strongest mystery I’ve read, I really did enjoy Mr. Churchill's Secretary.  The sequel is already out, and I am finding a spot for it on my to be read list.

And if you are looking for more World War II intrigue, be sure to check out the rest of the Maggie Hope Mysteries in order.

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