Set in World War II London, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first in MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series. As Hitler makes his way to France and begins preparations for an air assault on Britain, Miss Hope begins working as a typist for newly elected Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. An American with family ties to England, Maggie has postponed doctoral studies at M.I.T. and a promising career in mathematics to do what she can to help the war effort, even if it means taking a job far beneath her intellect. Surrounded by the boys club of Oxford and Cambridge graduates, Maggie quickly becomes engrossed in the inner workings of 10 Downing Street.
As London prepares for total war, the IRA takes advantage and begins their own bombing campaign. Centuries of hostility rage on as Maggie learns that England faces enemies from all sides.
London during the Blitz has always been a fascinating subject for me though I’ll admit I was worried that this novel would disappoint. I’m generally not a fan of getting too close to great historical figures like Churchill, nor am I keen on a story that features a women struggling against inequality (and I mean nothing offensive by this, it’s just not my thing). Nevertheless, I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The plot moved at an adequate pace, and it’s always a pleasure to get a tour of wartime London, even if allowances were made for social time that someone in Maggie’s position would not have had. There was a real sense of place to this story that helped overshadow some other shortcomings.
The espionage part of the story fell a little short of expectations, though most of this novel read like a prequel to Maggie’s real story. As this is the first book in a series, I would imagine that there is much more to come in terms of immersing our heroine in the world of MI-5. Most of this novel appears to have been about proving Maggie’s abilities instead of letting her abilities solve problems as a way of moving the plot forward. There is also the business of figuring where her father is buried, if in fact he was buried at all, as well as a minor romantic interest that felt almost obligatory.
Overall, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was worth the read, but I hope to see more from books 2 and 3 of this series. Next up, Maggie trains for a true life of espionage and is sent undercover at Windsor Castle in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy (2012).