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Maggie Hope: Excellent WWII Spy Fiction

May 19, 2013

This is a review of the first three books in what I hope will continue to be an excellent series of mysteries featuring Maggie Hope, by Susan Elia MacNeal. Some mystery series, you can read them out of sequence, and still get oriented around the characters. In this case, it’s absolutely essential to start at the beginning with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. And make sure you have the next two close to hand. Because, there are plot twists near the ends of books, and details that carry over. I am trying very hard to avoid spoilers.

It’s not a spoiler to say that I was on the subway while reading the final chapters of Princess Elizabeth’s Spy and I blurted out “Holy S____! WHAT?” Much to the perplexed amusement of my fellow rush hour commuters. You will probably want to gobble down all of the books in rapid succession. This is a good plan. And Ms. MacNeal needs to write faster, please. Because I want another book or several.

Maggie undertakes her first mission behind enemy lines in His Majesty’s Hope. The events and character progressions take a somewhat darker, more intense turn than previous books. There are violent scenes, and not just those directly related to Maggie’s mission, or to the level of violence with the war. The nature of Nazi goals and projects becomes clearer to the British and to the Americans, in addition to mission/spy violent scenes. Violence leaves scars, and it was interesting to see how different characters reacted, or developed, or went off the rails entirely. I’m trying so hard not to spoil. Because there are so many key details about relationships and how people interact, and loyalties. So I’m being vague. If you have read the series, I think you should follow up by reading what Sassymonkey wrote about it on her blog.

I like Maggie Hope. She’s extraordinarily good at math and ciphers, and really wants to use her talents for the War effort. Being a woman, she gets thwarted in that more often than not, but she keeps going. She’s smart and getting into the thick of solving mysteries, but feels real- can seethe with anger, jump to the wrong conclusions, be terrified of screwing up, be heartbroken, she can be a devoted friend, she can be prickly about past hurts. I like that she’s not a Superhuman Girl Detective, but rather, a complex mix of strengths and getting in her own way.

The way this series is put together, historical details and descriptions woven into alternate events, the end result is fully convincing and believable. Usually, I’m twitchy about alternate history, feeling like a square peg has been squished into a round hole. I was ready to believe in the spying and information exchange that went on to drive this plot across Bletchley, Buckingham and elsewhere. Here, I could believe in the historical characters as MacNeal created them, from Churchill conducting a meeting while splashing in his bath, to Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret being, well, siblings at each other. Fictional characters like David (I love David!) and Sarah and the riddles of Maggie’s past… fit seamlessly.

Grab as many of these books as you can, and put yourself on the pre-order list for more.

Disclosure: I received ARCs of the entire series from Susan Elia MacNeal’s publicist. All of my opinions are my own. I was not compensated for writing this review.

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