Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Summary from the publisher:
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.
I nearly skipped in delight when I found a copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary in the lovely gift bag that Random House gave out at the BEA Power Reader breakfast. As a British history student who spent a lot of time studying WWII and Churchill, I was intrigued by a novel narrated from the point of view of his secretary. Someone who was so close to him in the early days of the war was sure to provide very personal insight into what was going on at 10 Downing Street. I also love war stories set on the home front, because those left behind faced an entirely different uncertainty, and it’s incredible to see people band together. And as if all the historical details weren’t enough, there’s the added element of a feisty heroine with a hidden past.
So, with my high expectations, did Mr. Churchill’s Secretary deliver?
Oh, yes. On all scores.
Maggie Hope is a wonderful addition to the “strong women in wartime” cannon. She is whip-smart, brave, and unafraid of voicing her opinions, yet all the while she’s believable and trustworthy, and you want to follow her into her adventures. I loved seeing 10 Downing Street from her perspective and watching her and Churchill gain a mutual respect for one another, and her attempts to understand Churchill’s lingo during her first weeks were particularly hilarious.
This book is so grounded in the period that you can practically hear the air raid sirens and sense the tension in the air as London waits for the Germans to finally drop that first bomb. And that tension exists inside Downing Street as well. So many of my favorite scenes occurred in those halls: Churchill collapsing into his chair with his head in his hands after he dictates the “This was their finest hour” speech to Maggie, Churchill and his aides watching London burn after the very first bombing, the radio broadcasts to boost morale that moved Maggie to tears, the feverish atmosphere in MI-Five as they tried to keep tabs on German sleeper spies and the IRA. Mixed in with the fear, though, are vibrant glimpses of London nightlife, where Maggie and her young friends, most of whom are involved in war work, try to forget, if only for a while.
The most pleasant surprise was the mystery, which unfurled with the occasional misdirections, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, there was one last twist that had my heart racing as I frantically tore through the pages. Really well done!
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is a strong debut with something for everyone: history, mystery, romance. I look forward to seeing what Maggie gets up to next in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.
Susan MacNeal, you definitely do not need to buy me that cocktail.