Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam Books, 2011) is the first of eight, so far, historical thrillers set during World War II featuring Margaret Hope, an English citizen raised in the United States. When Maggie’s parents were killed in a car accident, her aunt in Wellesley, Massachusetts, took her in, where Maggie was raised in an academic tradition. Excelling in mathematics, in the spring of 1940 Maggie is preparing to enter the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for doctoral work when her grandmother in London dies. Maggie goes to London to close out her estate and sell the huge Victorian house, which languishes on the market as war gets closer.
Maggie applies for work with the English Government and, despite her excellent research credentials, is relegated to the job of typist for Winston Churchill soon after he takes office as prime minister. She takes in a few boarders and prepares to wait out the war, to the great dismay of her aunt. Churchill is a demanding employer but Maggie finds the work is immensely rewarding. She also finds there are those who would exploit the knowledge she gains by typing the great man’s memos and letters.
This is a fast-moving story that is mostly faithful to the time and place of its setting, although there are a few historical discrepancies. The IRA and the pacifist movement are both represented, as are the brilliant denizens of Bletchley Park. I liked the sketches of the roommates. Some reviews complain that the book reads like a history text, and parts of it are overloaded with research. I have always been in awe of the English people’s spirit and courage during this bleak and frightening time so I can cut the book some slack. Coincidence plays a larger role than it should have perhaps as a plot to assassinate Churchill is foiled, and a couple of the enemy agents are remarkably unprepared to kill their victims, which I suspect was not the case in real life. Overall a pleasant read if not terribly realistic.
· Paperback: 384 pages
· Publisher: Bantam; 2011
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 9780553593617
· ISBN-13: 978-0553593617
Aubrey Hamilton ©2019
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.