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Good Literature for Children & Adults

Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal

Meet Prime Minsters Churchill’s plucky fictional heroine

The Maggie Hope mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal is a series some of my staff and many of my customers have been reading for the last few years. I finally read the first couple early this winter when I was looking for something undemanding but absorbing to pass the time – and they were just the ticket.

The series begins with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, where we first meet our heroine Maggie Hope. Maggie was born in England but grew up in the United States. We learn that Maggie’s parents were killed in an automobile accident and she was raised by her Aunt Edith, an academic who has ensured that her niece is well educated and independent. Maggie, in fact, is an exceptionally talented mathematician. 

When Maggie’s grandmother in England dies, Maggie inherits and is obliged to travel to England to sell the house and disburse the possessions. War soon changes all of her plans to make a quick sale and return to her studies in the United States. Maggie moves into the house, and takes in a several other young women as boarders. As it seems unlikely there will be a quick sale and money is running out Maggie finds herself looking for a job – and through a friend finds a position as a typist in the pool at Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s office.

What follows is a mystery novel involving murder and espionage, made rich with historical detail and peppered with bits of Churchill’s famous speeches, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the street, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”

We read about the IRA and the sympathy some held for the Nazis – their aim much the same, to conquer England. London is bombed and the British “Keep Plodding On”. And, of course, the culprits are found out.

Reading a series like this is a comfort – we know the heroine is likely to survive each of the books, so though there may be a close calls and dangerous situations we expect to meet the heroine again, along with most of the cast of supporting characters. Sort of simple “comfort food” for readers.

The second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, finds Maggie living at Windsor Castle, undercover, as a Maths teacher to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. It is suspected that there is a spy among the castle staff and it is Maggie’s job to ensure the safety of the princesses and, if possible, expose the spy.

Some of our favourite characters from the first novel return, Maggie’s friend David takes on a larger role, and new characters are introduced. Prime Minister Churchill is with us again, and we share the Christmas celebrations with Maggie, the royal family, the Prime Minister and others at Windsor Castle.

The back story throughout both of these novels is Maggie’s discovery, bit by bit in each book, the truth about her parents lives – and the secrets that had been kept from her.

I will readily admit that these are what I’d call lightweight mysteries – they are certainly not as well written, or as intense Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and their ilk – but they are interesting enough to read one after the other when all you want is entertaining break from the real world.

I always enjoy reading about wartime England, a time that brought out both the best and the worst of people, and the accurate portrayal of the true history and way of life of that time is what makes these novels worth reading. The intimate view into the life and work of Winston Churchill is something I found especially fascinating.

If you are looking for a book to disappear into on a cold winter’s night this series is worth a try – and all in paperback, and perfect for the tub.

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