Monday, March 20, 2017

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

First Sentence:  Half an hour before Diana Snyder died, she tidied up her desk in the typists’ office of the Cabinet War Rooms.
      
The war in Europe has begun but hasn’t come to England…yet.  Churchill is the new Prime Minster, and everyone is just waiting.  Maggie Hope has a fine, logical mind but, after another typist is murdered, has been hired on to work at No. 10 Downing Street.  But spies are afoot, and not just from Germany. 
      
The inclusion of segments from Churchill’s actual speeches well establishes the time period and adds veracity to the story.  Early dialogue leaves no question as to the location—“Tea,” she stated in her deep, booming voice, deliberately changing the subject. “We all need tea.  There’ll be no blood, toil, tears, or sweat until I have some goddamned tea.”
      
We are reminded that this was a time before the US entered the War and when some American Industrialists and politicians were supported the German regime, and when Ireland declared itself neutral. Yet the character of Maggie has an interesting perspective.
     
It is always a benefit to learn things one hadn’t previously known.  Such is the skill of a good author.  MacNeal’s references to specific events of the time are also a very clever way of indicating the passage of time within the story.  Yet we are painfully reminded of the attitudes toward women which prevailed then…and still often do—“You’re a smart girl,” Snodgrass said to her,” and that’s good.  You’ll have intelligent children.  But isn’t it more important to worry about your appearance and not calculations?  Let the boys like John here take care of it.  Stick to typing, please.”—which can cause readers to indulge in a gnashing of teeth.  Still, there is a wonderful reference to Noel’Coward’s song “The Stately Homes of England.”  A slight aside, if you’ve never seen the movie “The Grass is Greener,” I do highly recommend it.
     
MacNeal provided us with an excellent and horrific description of the Germans’ bombing London, as well as a very moving poem about death.
      
One thing that would very much have helped would have been a cast of characters.  Although the characters are interesting and individual, there are a lot of them and one can find oneself confused as to who is whom, and the role they play. There were also some small historical inaccuracies, but nothing so significant so as to lessen one’s enjoyment.
     
 “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” is full of surprises with intrigue, action, history; all of which is very well done.

MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY (Ama Sleuth/Molly –London-WWII/1940) – G+
      MacNeal, Susan Elia – 1st in series
      William Morrow – March 2015

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