Friday, April 20, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
4/5 stars
Bantam Books, 2012
354 pages
Historical Mystery

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

This book caught my interest for two main reasons. One is the subject matter: WWII Britain, a fascinating time period. The other was that it was touted as a read-a-like to Laurie R. King's Mary Russell mystery series, Rhys Bowen's writing, and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series. I love the first two and am interested in trying Winspear with the expectation of loving it as well. So I entered this with high expectations.

I was quite swept away by the main character Maggie Hope, an orphan who enters into the employ of Winston Churchill, newly seated Prime Minster of England as they face the threat of Nazi Germany bearing down on France. Maggie is definitely a heroine I can support: she's very smart (top of her class), funny, loyal, feminist, and all around a cool lady. Pretty much everything I learned about her made me like her more and more. Unfortunately the book does not just focus on her, bringing in a lot of other information.

For example, sometimes it seemed like the author included extraneous information just to show how she had done her research. This is especially noticeable in the beginning when I was trying to get into the story. Then, as if WWII were not enough, the main subplot is about an IRA conspiracy with a three pronged attack on Britain. But there is also Maggie's feminism, agitating against sexist male superiors who consign her to a typist position despite her brains and qualifications for other work. And Maggie's twisted family history, a thread which I imagine will run throughout the series. Also a bit of romance although not enough for my taste. I understand that this is an introductory book (and I definitely want to read more!) but it felt a bit overwhelming.

Overall: A satisfying debut with a very promising main character, someone I definitely want to know more about!


  1. I've got this on my TBR list and I'm glad you enjoyed it even with the minor flaws. I can't wait to give it a try. I was drawn to the book because of the time period, Winston Churchill, and the description of the main character. Hopefully book two will improve.

  2. Yay for historical mysteries -- those are two genres, next to contemporary, that I'm trying to get more into! :) I'm really intrigued in Maggie's character because you described her as a smart and funny feminist, which I totally support since I'm all for girl power. That, coupled with the fact that it's set during Hitler's time, makes me really want to read this!

    Awesome review as always, B! :) <3

  3. Churchill's important secretaries, who added to his work, were almost all of them male and most of them gay. They were sophisticated Oxbridgians beyond any of the women he had as secretaries. With his male secretaries, he could be honest and even blunt. With his female secretaries, he had to be diplomatic and courteous, polite,and Victorian. Many of his male secretaries went on to become famous writers, and only mention in exegesis that they'd had the honor of working with Churchill. A History oif the English-speaking Peoples was, actually, only in part attributable to Churchill; his male secretaries deserve much of the credit for one of the greatest studies ever written. Feminist history begins with the Oresteia, and returning to that trilogy is where feminists should begin -- not with somebody's typist.


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