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by Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, April 2012
384 pages
ISBN: 0553593617

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the Cabinet War Rooms Museum in London cannot help but be moved by this fortress of democracy. From his camp bed underground, Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed the war efforts in Britain's battles of World War II, even as Nazi bombs were falling nightly on London. Unlike other tourists, however, author Susan Elia MacNeal took her experience and transformed it into a mystery, with a plucky secretary at the helm.

Maggie Hope, a clever mathematician, can't seem to find suitable work during the war. The most exciting jobs seem to be reserved for Oxbridge's finest, and when Maggie's friend David suggests that she become a secretary, she initially scoffs at the suggestion. Eventually her patriotism wins over, and she soon finds herself on the receiving end of orders from a gruff, cigar-smoking dictator.

Soon enough, Maggie, along with a cohort of friends, is wrapped up in the tide of war and plenty of intrigue to boot. This plucky young woman is able to use more than a few of her advanced skills while "typing" for Mr. Churchill. There's also a secondary mystery going on related to Maggie's own past. Her parents died when she was a child and so she was raised by her aunt, a college professor in the US.

Maggie has returned to her British birthplace to deal with selling her grandmother's house, but with World War II under way, she gets drawn into staying in London and becoming part of the war effort. Eventually the secrets of her family's past become entwined with a plot in which the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazis are working together to undermine the British government, and it's Maggie Hope to the rescue.

While the crime-fighting pluck of Maggie might defy belief, the novel is sheer delight. Author Susan MacNeal has crafted a brilliant, enjoyable romp that draws heavily on available historical data to create a mystery whose reality focuses on speeches of Churchill and interviews with people who worked with him to provide a sterling backdrop rather than a reality-based plotline.

Part cozy, part history, and thoroughly enjoyable, MacNeal has taken a serious time in world history and created a pleasant, light-hearted story. Using engaging characters and the force of history, she has created a new take on the historical novel, one that is sure to be enjoyed by all.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, May 2012

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