What do you do in 1940 when you’re whip-smart but stuck in a traditionally female role?
If you’re Maggie Hope, the main character in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, you swallow your disappointment but keep using your intelligence as you work as a secretary for Winston Churchill. It’ll pay off.
This historical mystery profiles Winston Churchill as he serves as the World War II British Prime Minister. MacNeal deftly incorporates parts of Churchill’s great speeches in the story, and she also weaves into the novel fascinating historical details. Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s father, spouted pro-Nazi views. British citizens erected home-made bomb shelters made of corrugated steel called an Anderson.
Maggie’s a summa cum laude graduate from Wesley, fluent in German and French, and was about to start a doctoral degree in Mathematics from M.I.T. She came to England to visit an old family home and decided to stay. The timing is bad. The Nazis have invaded most of Europe and engaging in war with England. Despite her intelligence, the war job she’s offered is at No. 10 Downing Street as the secretary to Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister.
The core mystery in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is how to prevent a bombing St. Paul’s Church and the assassination of Winston Churchill.
I appreciated MacNeal’s handling of scenes that involved multiple characters. A writer has to ensure that her characters are sufficiently distinctive so they don’t all blend together in readers’ mind. Furthermore, an author has to keep track of the physical location of each character so that readers can build an image of the setting and the people in it. Early in the book, MacNeal masters the tricky setup when she puts Maggie in the booth of an English pub with blackout curtains with five other characters.
MacNeal’s research and her invocation of the times, from the fear of nightly air attacks to her description of Winston Churchill gives readers insight into another time and place. I learned more about Winston Churchill as a great leader during a time of great uncertainty, and I have come to admired him more.
With a great mystery included, it doesn’t get any better than that.
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Till next time,