Mr Churchill's Secretary Paperback – 5 February 2015
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- ISBN-10 : 1472113888
- ISBN-13 : 978-1472113887
- Paperback : 368 pages
- Product Dimensions : 15.2 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
- Publisher : Constable (5 February 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 298,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
From the Back Cover
Waging war is not women’s work – or so Maggie Hope is told – but she soon finds that there are many ways to fight a battle.
Living in London at the start of the Second World War, Maggie is deemed unsuitable for intelligence work, but the young American finds favour with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose mother was also American, and is gradually drawn into a deadly world of intrigue, espionage and betrayal that even embroils her own family’s hidden past.
As the Nazis rampage across Europe, Maggie’s war is fought in secret, unravelling a web of lies at the heart of the British establishment, leading to treachery, murder and an assassination plot that could change history.
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Fortunately, I didn’t read too many reviews of this novel first, so my enjoyment wasn’t tainted by watching out for potholes – historical or linguistic errors. Yes, I spotted some mistakes, but the plot swept me past them. So, I’m not going to nit-pick – and I know first-hand about American editors making changes for their larger market. (I fear my own writing lapses into Americanisms that might cause problems.)
Anyway, I suspended my disbelief and judgemental self to read about a clever young woman attempting to push past the restrictions imposed on women. The heroine, Maggie Hope has the qualifications to be more than just a typist for Winston Churchill, but that is how she starts out at 10, Downing Street. From there, she becomes involved in ‘a web of spies, murder, and intrigue’ earning promotion of sorts.
The plot unfolds through a series of events told from multiple POVs – almost too many by the end, though never a read-block - and the threads are brought together in a series of climactic episodes. Eventually, these lead into the over-long set-up for what has become not just a sequel but a series of books.
Were there plot holes? No, a few coincidences but life is full of them, and these felt explained, especially as some characters were being minimal with what they told Maggie – they have their reasons like there is a war on and "Careless talk costs lives”.
As a Brit ex-pat living in the US, I enjoyed reading about London during the war and recognised places from having lived there (and researched places destroyed in the Blitz). The fashion, music, art and celebrity references made me smile, especially as Maggie was part of a set on the fringes of high-society. Hobnobbing and name-dropping was rife throughout the world I grew up in. There were settings outside London that I recognised, although a few decades after these events – but they came alive for me.
The characters, especially Maggie, felt realistic, even though emotions felt restrained in some cases. For instance, when death becomes more personal, there are demonstrations of grief – but not wailing. But even by the time the Blitz arrives, there is a sense of numbness for some – a numbness that shatters, perhaps not as overtly as we might portray it today. Stiff upper lip? And some of the secondary roles felt shallow in passing.
When the Luftwaffe arrived over London, the atmosphere changed, and the plot moved faster for me. Life must continue, including dancing, but the danger was more visible – and the smell pungent. So, characters are asking, ‘Who to trust?’ They become more conscious of Nazi sympathisers and more in their midst. Britain has older enemies and we slowly learn why in dialogue, memories and songs.
I always felt that Susan Elia MacNeal had done her research – for instance, when Frederick Ashton appeared- and despite the few potholes that I read around. Her ‘historical notes’ make it clear that this research was extensive, and she used numerous reputable sources, including her inspiration for Maggie and her fictional exploits in the real-life Churchill secretaries, Marian Holmes and Elizabeth Layton Nel.
This was a fast read, and I recommend this novel. Book 2 will have to wait as I have other historical novels to tackle first – and I need to forget those distracting reviews that I want to disagree with.
3.7 stars upgraded to 4.
Story – four stars
Setting/World-building – four stars
Authenticity – four stars
Characters – three stars
Structure – three stars
Readability – four stars
Editing – four stars
This book was OK, not fantastic to read, but enjoyable since I love historical mystery books. Maggie Hope is a good character and there were a lot of likable characters around her. I can't say that I really liked her relationship with John. For some reason, their relationship didn't click for me. The plot in this book was interesting, there is a plot to kill Winston Churchill and it doesn't take much brain work to figure at that one person around Maggie isn't who she is saying she is the question is who? There wasn't really any real twist to the story, no real aha moments. Everything unfurled nicely along the way and that was the problem, I wanted the story to be a bit more problematic, more nerve chilling, but alas, it was not to be. Still I will continue with the series. I liked the book enough to feel that I want to read more and I especially liked Winston Churchill in this book.
This novel is set in London 1940 at the beginning of London Blitz. Maggie Hope is a UK born American immigrant with a degree in maths, who works as Winston Churchill's secretary. She lived in old Victorian house she inherited with several other girls.
Maggie Hope gets involved in code breaking and espionage while trying to track down her father.
This is a very good and easy read, fast paced and informative (I never knew about code breaking centres or types of codes used so it was interesting to read this). However, it is not a historical novel so read it if you like a good World War mystery. Also some of the phrases are really not British but the author seemed to think they are.
In summary, this was an interesting and quick read but I wish it had more of a historical element to it and considering it was about Churchill's secretary, more on Churchill himself during the war would have been nice.