Rating:

Reviewed by Colleen Turner

Having been raised in America by her Aunt Edith after her parents died in a car crash when she was a baby, Maggie Hope found herself in London to sell the house of a grandmother she didn’t even know she had. Confused and angry at her aunt for keeping such a big secret from her, Maggie was surprised to find she loved Britain, the nation of her birth, and decided to stay on. Taking in a group of women for roommates and making some wonderful male friends as well, Maggie was elated to find she had created a sort of family among her new friends, something she never really had growing up.

With Britain at war with Germany, Maggie hoped she could put her intellect and vast mathematical and code breaking skills to work for her country. However, after being turned down for a private secretary position for the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill because she was a woman, Maggie must swallow her disappointment when offered a position as a typist, considered a more appropriate job for a female. Hating this stereotypical viewpoint but knowing this is her best chance to make a difference, she accepts.

It doesn’t take long for Maggie to discover that war and all its machinations is much more complicated and terrifying than she imagined. Used to the order and rationale inherent in her beloved numbers, the randomness and madness of the nightly bombings and various other forms of anxiety gripping the country, along with the top secret information she comes into contact with that most citizens will never know, is almost too much. Adding to the chaos swirling around her, a close friend turns out not to be who they say, German and Irish spies are seeking to bring down the British war machine and Maggie learns that she might not have been told the whole truth when it comes to what happened to her parents. Plucky, intelligent and determined, Maggie must find a way to make sense of all the volatile and shifting factors around her to form some solid answers. Her very life, and the lives of those around her, might depend on it.

I just love Maggie Hope! It is so refreshing to find a brilliant, determined and funny female protagonist. While she is kind and feminine she is in no way a shrinking violet and she doesn’t need anyone’s help in finding the answers she seeks. In fact she is smarter and sharper than most of the men she works with. Her biggest downfall is not realizing that just about everyone is hiding something, but part of the excitement for the reader is discovering these hidden truths along with Maggie.

Having read the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, before reading Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I would definitely recommend reading the books in order. Already knowing the outcome of at least part of the mysteries of this book, it made for less climactic drama. Also, I was somewhat disappointed when the romance between Maggie and a coworker, John Sterling, wasn’t better developed in this book as it seemed to play an important, while secondary, part in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy. Reading the books in order would help make for a more linear timeline and less disappointment with plot spoilers.

I appreciate the fact that the author did not sugar coat the actions expressed in the book. War is messy and terrifying and MacNeal does not hold back in describing this. The book is funny, touching and terrifying in turns but at all times it feels real, even as the author points out that while certain people and places are factual the book at its core is a work of fiction. I have become a devoted fan of both MacNeal and Maggie Hope and I, for one, will have the next book in the series in hand as soon as it comes out.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Also by Susan Elia MacNeal: Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Bantam. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.