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Good Literature for Children & Adults

The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal & The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis

This week we have a couple of recent installments in long running and popular mystery series – one historical and one contemporary.


The Prisoner in the Castle is the eighth in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal. And, once again, we learn about a fascinating aspect of the British war effort, and the experiences of some of those who worked in Special Operations for the British intelligence service.

There are many murder mystery novels set around the time of the Second World War, and it is always surprising that book after book more is revealed about the war and the experiences of those who lived at that time.

In this episode our heroine, Maggie Hope, has recently returned from France, traumatized after a very difficult assignment. Her superiors feel that Maggie is now too much of a risk to be sent on another mission – and rather than allow her to retire quietly, they have transferred her to a remote island where other at risk former spies are imprisoned. None of them are at all happy about being there and, in fact, it takes them a while to realize that this is not just a forced rest, but an imprisonment. Maggie is not the only one who still wishes to serve her country, and to find a way off the island.

There is soon a murder – then another, and then another. A severe storm hampers Maggie’s efforts to leave the island, and at the same time it is becoming increasingly difficult to know who to trust, while doing her best to keep herself alive. In the meantime, back in London, Maggie’s friends are concerned enough about her unexplained disappearance that they are working on finding out where she is – and why.

Doing a little research after reading this novel, I discovered that Arisaig House was commandeered by the British Government during the Second World War and was used as a training centre for SOE agents. In fact, many country houses were taken over by the government and used for the war effort. So, it is not improbable that there was a place much like the fictitious Killoch Castle on the Isle of Scarra. I believe that the very real Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum was used as the model for the prison where Susan Elia MacNeal has put Maggie Hope and several other risky – and eccentric – British spies. With a few locals thrown in to mix it up, and provide even more confusion, the result is a very suspenseful, intriguing and informative novel.

Also of note is The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis now out in paperback, the 23rd in the Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery series. We find Wesley slightly less worried about the health of his wife, Pam, who has now returned to work after a serious illness.

Work right now, for Wesley, involves two murders in close proximity to each other and, as it turns out, in much the same location as an earlier case. There is also the disappearance of a teenage girl, who may, or may not, have a connection to one of the murder victims. Then, there is the concern of a woman whose home was broken into 18 months earlier, who continues to call Wesley for reassurance that she is now truly safe.

Wesley’s friend, archaeologist Neil Watson is, as usual, also in the neighbourhood - literally digging around in the past. Of course, after much confusion, the case is solved, and we’ve spent an entertaining day or two with a favourite, entirely fictional, detective, in lovely, if dangerous, Dartmoor.



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